Prosthetic limb or lethal weapon?

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The bronze hand was found near Lake Biel in western Switzerland CREDIT: Jamie Lorriman

As part of its ‘World of Stonehenge’ exhibition in 2022, the British Museum displayed what experts believe to be Europe’s oldest prosthetic limb – a bronze hand cast with an exquisite cuff of gold foil.

The hand was discovered by detectorists in 2017 near Lake Biel in western Switzerland. Dated to between 1,500 and 1,400 BC, it was  buried in a human grave alongside a bronze dagger, a cloak pin and a hair ornament. It is widely believed to be a prosthetic limb although some experts have suggested that it could have been a drinking vessel. The razor-sharp flat fingers have led some to believe that it could even have been used as a weapon – a kind of prehistoric ancestor of X-Man Wolverine.

Neil Wilkin, the exhibition curator, told The Daily Telegraph: “It’s a completely astonishing object – we’ve never seen anything like it. The fingers have a sharpness to them and, curiously, it doesn’t show a fist that’s clenched. It shows the fingers protruding and, even if they weren’t used as blades, they have that appearance.”

The metal cuff bears detailed engraving which appears to depict the sun. The workmanship of the hand, its intricacy, solid metal construction and gold cuff all suggest that it would have belonged to someone of very high status. “It is likely that this [prosthetic] is a rare instance of someone having lost a limb and yet survived,” said Dr Wilkin.

The workmanship of the hand suggests it belonged to someone of high status CREDIT: Jamie Lorriman

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