Archaeologists Find Skeleton of Medieval Man Who Used a Knife as a Prosthetic Limb

Italian anthropologists have unveiled research that shows how a medieval man survived amputation and used a knife as a prosthetic.
Jessica Miley

Anthropologists have released details of a medieval-era skeleton discovered in Italy that seems to have not only survived the amputation of his right hand, he lived with a bladed weapon as a prosthetic limb. The unusual skeleton was discovered as part of the excavation of the Longobard necropolis of Povegliano Veronese in Veneto, Northern Italy. The specimen, dubbed T US 380 is dated to between the 6th and 8th centuries. 

Man used knife as hand

The new research that has been documented in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences details how the man replaced his missing hand with a knife. It appears the man attached the weapon-like prosthetic to the stump with a cap, buckle, and leather straps. 

Scientists were able to go so far as to say that the man used his teeth to tie the contraption onto his arm. While the man’s body was removed as part of the excavation of 160 tombs, only recently was further study done. 

Hand may have been taken as punishment

The new research led by anthropologist Ileana Micarelli from the University of Rome suggests the man's hand was removed in a single blow, leading the researchers to suspect it may have been lost in a fight. Other theories point towards the man losing his hand as part of a punishment, which was common in some parts of Medieval Italy. 


No matter the method that the hand was lost, what is exciting to scientists is that the man was able to survive an amputation well before of sterilization techniques and antibiotics were invented. The research team proposes that the example of the well healed injury points to the idea that the man was in an environment that knew something about stopping blood loss. 

The researchers were able to determine that the man had used a prosthetic by examining the man's wrist bones. The noticed that bony healing tissue had formed on the ends of the bones indicating to them that the wrist had experienced frequent biomechanical force. 

Prosthetic device found close to corpse

Further evidence to support their theory was formed with the discovery of a knife, a cap on the stump, and a D-shaped buckle that showed traces of a decomposed organic material, that may have been leather. T US 380 was also found in a usual lying posture, instead of his hands by his side, like the other skeletons discovered in tombs, he arms were crossed across his chest and a knife was found aligned with this amputated wrist. 

Archaeologists Find Skeleton of Medieval Man Who Used a Knife as a Prosthetic Limb
Source: ISITA

In addition to this other strong evidence, the researchers also found the man's teeth were usually worn in a way that would suggest he used them to tie the prosthetic limb to his body.

Archaeologists Find Skeleton of Medieval Man Who Used a Knife as a Prosthetic Limb
Source: ISITA

“This Longobard male shows a remarkable survival after a forelimb amputation during pre-antibiotic era,” write the researchers in the study. 

“Not only did he adjust very well to his condition, he did so with the use of a culturally-derived device, along with considerable community support. Most likely, he had a prosthesis that was used to protect the stump.”


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