Conference Announcement: Prostheses in Antiquity

Registration now open

An international interdisciplinary conference, supported by the Wellcome Trust [018557/Z/15/Z] and Classical Association to be held at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (Lampeter Campus) on Tuesday 30th June 2015, organised by Dr Jane Draycott, School of Classics, Faculty of Humanities and Performing Arts.

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?

Since the 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’ in Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 37.3 - in 1996, 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, and it is past time for a reassessment.

This conference will bring academics working on the social, cultural and historical contexts of health and disease from the disciplines of Classics (Adams, Draycott, Noel), Ancient History (Cannon), Archaeology (Eitler, Jackson), Bioarchaeology (Binder), Egyptology (Finch) and Biblical Studies (Lehmhaus) in universities and museums, together with medical practitioners (van Schaik is a physician; Massey is a prosthetist, Yaron is a medical researcher), and facilitate the foundation of a research network focussing on prostheses in antiquity.  Previously unpublished archaeological discoveries and the findings of experimental archaeological investigations are also to be presented (Binder, Eitler, Finch).

The initial output will be an edited volume of conference proceedings, which Ashgate’s Medicine and the Body in Antiquity series and Brill’s Studies in Ancient Medicine series have both expressed an interest in publishing, and the prostheses in antiquity research network. However, 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 (a link already exists with Cardiff ALAC through Massey). 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.

The  registration fee, which includes conference packs, tea & coffee, lunch, and wine, is £15. 

To register, and for any other information, please contact Dr Jane Draycott on

9.15 am   


 9.30 am               

  • ‘Prosthetics, Aids and Disability: A Modern View’.
  • Ellen Adams, King’s College London

 10.00 am             

  • ‘(Re)making Faces: Form as Function in Facial Prostheses’
  • Gili Yaron, University of Maastricht

 10.30 am             

  • ‘The Prosthetic Service Today’
  • Ian Massey, Cardiff Artificial Limb and Appliance Centre

 11.00 – 11.30 am   


 11.30 am            

  •   ‘Prostheses and Anatomical Ex Votos in Antiquity’
  • Alyce-Rose Cannon, University of Sydney

 12.00 pm             

  • ‘Objects as Prostheses in Fifth Century Athenian Tragedy’
  • Anne-Sophie Noel, University of Lyon

 12.30 pm             

  • ‘Prosthetic Hair in Ancient Rome’
  • Jane Draycott, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

 13.00 pm – 14.00 pm  


 14.00 pm             

  • ‘“Unconscious of his arms and his legs”: Perceptions, Prognoses, and the Treatment of Paralysis and Loss of Function Injuries in the Ancient Mediterranean’                         
  • Katherine van Schaik, Harvard University

 14.30 pm            

  •   ‘“An amputee may go out with his wooden aid on Shabbat”: Socio-cultural Dynamics and Medical Knowledge Related to Disabilities and Prostheses in Talmudic Traditions’                
  • Lennart Lehmhaus, Freie Universität Berlin

 15.00 – 15.30 pm  


 15.30 pm             

  • 'Evidence of a Late Antique Amputation in a Skeleton from the Hemmaberg’
  • Josef Eitler, Landesmuseum Kärnten & Michaela Binder, Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut

 16.00 pm             

  • ‘The Complex Aspects of Experimental Archaeology: the Design of Working Models of Two Ancient Egyptian Great Toes Prostheses’
  • Jacky Finch, KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, University of Manchester

16.30 – 17.30 pm              


 17.30 – 18.00 pm             


 18.00 pm             

  • Keynote Address: ‘From Head to Foot: an Overview of Prostheses in Antiquity’
  • Ralph Jackson, British Museum

  19.30 pm