Impact of war on language (182) Prosthetics in Literature Earliest Evidence (i).
By Sami El-Shahed
The earliest anthropological evidence of an amputee is that of a human skull in the Smithsonian Institution 45,000 years old that shows teeth shaped and aligned in such a way that indicate he was an upper extremity amputee. Other evidence is found in cave paintings in Spain and France, about 36,000 years old, which show the negative imprint of a mutilated hand. Later paintings like these were also found in New Mexico and suggest the practice of self mutilation to appease gods in religious ceremonies.
The Rig-Veda, an ancient sacred poem of India, is said to be the first written record of a prosthesis. Written in Sanskrit between 3500 and 1800 BC, it recounts the story of a warrior, Queen Vishpala, who lost her leg in battle, was fitted with an iron prosthesis, and returned to battle.
Some social attitudes toward amputation and amputees remain to this day, while others have changed. Congenitally deformed babies may have been killed or ostracized because they may have been judged a functional liability or spiritually unclean. However, King Montezuma II, an Aztec ruler, established a special, albeit degrading, compound for the disabled between the royal zoo and botanical gardens.
Amputation was often feared more than death in some cultures. It was believed that it not only affected the amputee on earth, but also in the afterlife. The ablated limbs were buried then disinterred and reburied at the time of the amputee's death so the amputee could be whole for eternal life. Many cultures had a very physical subsistence and any handicap might have affected an amputee's ability to provide for themselves and contribute to the tribe.
The reasons for amputation in ancient times varied. Congenital deformities have always been present, especially in Arab countries where first cousins were encouraged to marry. War was often the cause of traumatic amputation in battle or when taken prisoner.
Amputation was also used as a judicial punishment especially in the ancient Moche culture of Peru. Theft was punishable with the amputation of a hand, but if the thief could prove a motive of hunger, the village chief suffered the punishment. A foot was removed for laziness and both arms were removed for rebellion.
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