CFP: Prostheses in Antiquity, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Prostheses in Antiquity: A conference to be held at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (Lampeter Campus)

Tuesday 30th June 2015

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.

Potential areas of investigation include but are not limited to:

  • Prostheses in ancient literature
  • Prostheses in the archaeological record (e.g. grave goods, ritual deposition)
  • Prostheses in art
  • The relationship between anatomical ex votos and prostheses
  • The relationship between automata and prostheses
  • The technical aspects of design, production and usage of prostheses
  • The purpose of prostheses (e.g. replacement, reconstruction, utility, cosmetic etc.)
  • Medicine, surgery, rehabilitation and physiotherapy

Confirmed speakers:

Dr Ralph Jackson (British Museum)

Papers should be of 20 minutes’ length, and should not have been previously published or delivered at a major conference.  Please submit your abstract (200-300 words, either Word or PDF format) to Dr Jane Draycott ( by Monday 5th January 2015.  Please include your name, academic affiliation, and contact details in your email.  Successful contributions may be considered for publication in a peer-reviewed conference volume.

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