A Medieval Skeleton Discovered With an Iron Hand

A Medieval Skeleton Discovered With an Iron Hand

The discovery was announced in Germany through a press release. An individual who lived in the 15th century was unearthed during excavations, and he had an iron hand prosthesis on one of his hands. This discovery provides valuable insights into how ancient populations dealt with disabilities.

An Adult Man and Amputee

The man was subject to in-situ analysis and post-excavation examination, including additional Carbon-14 dating, which indicated that he died after the age of 30. The dating range is relatively broad, spanning from 1450 to 1620. Nevertheless, he lived in a time of intenseconflict.  While we cannot ascertain whether his injury was related to war or an accident, the study of injuries from that era demonstrates that individuals were concerned with repairing injuries and compensating for lost limbs. Placed over his amputated bone was a ball of earth and metal. It was only through further analysis and radiography that the metal hand became apparent to researchers.

Missing Fingers, Except One

The man’s thumb was partially holding the prosthesis in place, and radiography revealed that there were only four metal fingers on the device. Evidently, he had not lost his thumb, as the thumb bone was found. This indicates that the prosthesis was partially secured by the thumb and possibly by leather straps, residue of which was found during material analysis, suggesting the use of leather ties. Additionally, a fabric resembling gauze was discovered inside the prosthesis, likely used to protect the man’s stump during his life. Given that prostheses can cause irritation, it’s conceivable that the man experienced discomfort due to friction.

Increasingly Complex Prostheses

The Freising prosthesis, while ingenious, is not particularly complex, as its fingers are not articulated and the individual couldn’t grasp objects. However, other individuals had more advanced prostheses. For instance, in the 16th century, Götz von Berlichingen, who lost his hand due to a cannonball, was nicknamed the “Iron Hand” because of his prosthesis. His first prosthesis lacked articulated fingers, but the second one had them. These devices were remarkably advanced for their time, and contemporary scientists continue to study the mechanisms and manufacturing techniques behind these remarkable medieval and post-medieval objects.

This discovery is a significant contribution to the archaeology of disability in Europe, shedding light on periods when the causes of injuries and amputations could be diverse.