Prosthetic devices and reconstructive medicine is at a highly advanced stage today, with those who have lost limbs or sustained injuries able to use artificial equipment that is both lifelike and functional. But that wasn't always the case.
Throughout history, soldiers and other people who were maimed often had to make do with crude devices that neither looked good nor worked well. Here is a look at how prosthetics developed throughout history.
Ancient HardwareJon Bodsworth/Wikimedia Commons
Prosthetics have been used since the earliest eras of civilization, with the first recorded mention appearing in the ancient Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns known as the Rigveda. In those writings, the warrior queen Vishpala is given an "iron leg" after losing hers in battle. Egyptians were also early pioneers of the idea, with a wooden toe found on a body buried in the New Kingdom era 3,000 years ago. Metal and wooden limbs alternately show up in historical writings from both the ancient Greeks and Romans as well.
Medieval ProstheticsAmputee Coalition
The Middle Ages saw little advances in the design of artificial limbs, as most were made to hide deformities or injuries sustained in battle, and weren't very functional. For example, a maimed knight would wear armor designed to make him appear to have an otherwise missing leg or shield. Off the battlefield, only the wealthy could afford limbs more advanced than makeshift peg legs or hook-hands.
Renaissance EquipmentWilhelm Kratt/Wikimedia Commons
As scientific knowledge advanced in the Renaissance, prosthetics became more capable in allowing users to regain some of their lost function, if they could afford the fake limbs. Metal arms and hands with adjustable fingers and joints were designed for knights looking to once again wield their swords and shields.
Götz von Berlichingen Metal War HandWilhelm Kratt/Wikimedia Commons
One of the more notable prosthetic users was the German mercenary knight Götz von Berlichingen, who lost his arm at the beginning of the 16th century. His first replacement hands were relatively simple, but soon the knight began commissioning more complex designs, complete with leather straps, spring-loaded joint mechanisms, and ratchet systems.
Pirates and ProstheticsF.D. Bedford/Wikimedia Commons
The image of the hook-handed, peg-legged Caribbean pirate is thoroughly etched into popular culture, but these types of prosthetics existed since the earliest days of artificial limbs. While the infamous hook hand was largely a Hollywood exaggeration, pirates would have improvised a number of their fake limbs with equipment on hand. Also, with trained doctors being a rarity at sea, the ship's cook would often perform amputations.
Ambroise Paré and Medical AdvancesJames Bertrand
The Renaissance also brought a number of advances in medical science that contributed to how prosthetics meshed with their human users. French barber surgeon Ambroise Paré is credited as a pioneer in surgical techniques and battlefield medicine, designing revolutionary amputation procedures and prosthetic designs, including artificial legs with adjustable and locking joints.
Civil War MedicineCollectors Weekly
The U.S. Civil War prompted a number of military advances, with marked progress in battlefield medicine. Amputations became much more common during the 19th century conflict, and the development of anesthesia made the process much more easy. A number of new designs for prosthetics came out of the same era, with suction-sockets, multi-articulated limbs, and lighter materials like aluminum making the devices more comfortable and functional for their users.
Faces of World War IAnna Coleman Ladd papers/Archives of American Art/Smithsonian Institute
Like the Civil War, World War I prompted numerous technological advances, both destructive and constructive. As soldiers were increasingly maimed and disfigured by machine guns and artillery, a number of doctors focused their effort on facial reconstruction and prosthetics. Sir Harold Gillies was among the pioneers who developed surgical techniques and prosthetic masks that enabled war veterans to regain some of their sense of dignity and social normalcy.
Limbs for the Injured of World War IIKeystone-france/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images
World War II saw yet greater numbers of injured and maimed soldiers, requiring massive manufacturing of prosthetic limbs.
Postwar AdvancesMondadori Portfolio/Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images
At the end of World War II, the National Academy of Sciences began to advocate better research and development of prosthetics. In 1945, the U.S. Government established the Artificial Limb Program, leading to advances in areas such as materials, computer design methods, and surgical techniques over the rest of the 20th century.