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Medieval Warrior Replaced Amputated Arm With Killing Knife

There’s a lot of talk these days about toughness and weapons. Whatever your take, you have to admire the toughness of a middle-aged warrior from around the 6th century CE whose newly-discovered skeleton shows that he lost his right arm and had it replaced with a primitive prosthetic device attached to a long knife that, based on his age and injuries, served him well in many battles.

“One possibility is that the limb was amputated for medical reasons; perhaps the forelimb was broken due to an accidental fall or some other means, resulting in an unhealable fracture. Still, given the warrior-specific culture of the Longobard people, a loss due to fighting is also possible.”

How tough was this senior Longobard warrior? The name of the research paper, published this week in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences, about the necropolis his skeleton was found in is “Survival to amputation in pre-antibiotic era: a case study from a Longobard necropolis (6th-8th centuries AD).” That’s right, this senior fighter had his arm amputated in a pre-antibiotic and pre-anesthetic (unless you count wine, mead and biting on leather) age.

A replica of a 15th prosthetic arm

According to historian and Benedictine monk Paul the Deacon, the Longobards (or Lombards) were a Germanic group that conquered and ruled over the Italian peninsula after it was already devastated by the Gothic War. They remained in power in northern and central Italy until 774, when they were conquered by Charlemagne, and in southern Italy until the 11th century when they were conquered by the Normans.

Archaeologist Ileana Micarelli of Rome’s Sapienza University led the research in this necropolis and learned quite a bit about this Longobard warrior from his skeleton. As she explained in ScienceAlert, the right arm bone showed indications that its hand been removed traumatically, probably in battle since the Longobards were known fighters. The ends of the arm bones were worn down by some sort of “biomechanical pressure” which is indicative of pressure by a prosthesis. (Photos here and here.)

Is this really an improvement?

A prosthesis? In the 6th century? Sounds unbelievable but this wasn’t a real mystery … the strapping and the knife were buried with him. A D-shaped buckle and shreds of leather were there and the knife, unlike those buried with other male skeletons, was laid across his body with the rest of his arm.

But wait – you junior forensic archeologists – there’s more! The man’s teeth were worn down to the gums on his right side, indicating he used them to tightened the strap on the prosthesis. Also, his shoulder had developed an unusual ridge from twisting into an odd and probably painful position in order to reach his mouth to tighten the strap.

Modern prostheses

According to Micarelli, the man’s advanced age and relatively healthy condition is a tribute to his intestinal fortitude, but also to the support of his fellow Longobards.

“This Longobard male shows a remarkable survival after a forelimb amputation during pre-antibiotic era. Not only did he adjust very well to his condition, he did so with the use of a culturally-derived device, along with considerable community support. The survival of this Longobard male testifies to community care, family compassion and a high value given to human life.”

That is … valuing the human lives of their own culture. The poor Italians saw a different side of this scary knife-armed Longobard warrior.

Sounds like the makings of a new movie. Captain Knife? Medieval Machete Man? Cutlass Supreme?


Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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