Press Releases 2014-2015

International Academics Gather in Wales to Discuss Prostheses in Antiquity


Leading academics from around the world will visit the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) in Lampeter next month for a conference, supported by the Wellcome Trust, which will explore the topic of prostheses in antiquity.

The conference, which will take place on Tuesday 30th June, will bring together academics from UWTSD, Harvard University, University of Maastricht, King’s College London, University of Sydney, University of Lyon, Freie Universität Berlin, Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut, University of Manchester and the British Museum.

The delegates’ research covers the social, cultural and historical context of health and diseases from the disciplines of Classics, Ancient History, Archaeology, Bioarchaeology, Egyptology and Biblical Studies. Also taking part in the conference will be medical practitioners. Previously unpublished archaeological discoveries and the findings of experimental archaeological investigations will be presented.

The conference has been organised by Dr Jane Draycott from the School of Classics at UWTSD.

Since the 1996 publication of the last (and to-date only) substantial piece of academic research devoted solely to prostheses - Lawrence Bliquez’s ‘Prosthetics in Antiquity: Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Prosthetics’, there has been a steady increase in interest in impairment and disability in historical periods. While the vast majority of this interest has focussed on the post-mediaeval period, classical antiquity has not been ignored, with medical historians, ancient historians and archaeologists utilising literary, documentary, bioarchaeological and archaeological evidence in order to investigate a range of aspects of impairment and disability. Yet despite this, the use of prostheses in antiquity remains an understudied area.

Dr Draycott said: “In the contemporary world, a prosthesis is an artificial device that replaces a missing body part, generally designed and assembled according to the individual’s appearance and functional needs, with a view to being both as unobtrusive and as useful as possible. Surviving examples from Pharaonic Egypt are in accordance with this, constructed from painted cartonnage and showing evidence of wear. In the Graeco-Roman world, however, this was not necessarily the case. The ancient literary and documentary evidence for prostheses is contradictory, and the bioarchaeological and archaeological evidence is enigmatic, but it would appear that discretion and utility were not necessarily priorities, whether the prosthesis in question was a gold dental appliance, or an iron hand. So when, how and why did individuals utilise them?”

An edited volume of the conference proceedings will be created which will enhance the research work in this field. Dr Draycott is in the planning stages of a larger research project that will seek further grant support in order to explore the potential of public engagement activities with NHS Wales’ three Artificial Limb and Appliance Centres. Of particular interest is the possibility of collaborating with prosthetists, military veterans and historical re-enactors in order to develop prototypes of historically accurate prostheses for amputee re-enactors.

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