Archaeologists In Germany Just Unearthed A 400-Year-Old Skeleton That Had A Prosthetic Hand

Published November 1, 2023
Updated November 3, 2023

The hand dates to sometime between 1450 and 1620 C.E., and is just one of around 50 prosthetics of the time period discovered in Europe.

Prosthetic X-Ray

Bavarian State Office for Monument PreservationAn X-ray of the hand showed that the four fingers were amputated while the man was still alive.

A 400-year-old skeleton with a prosthetic hand was just discovered at an archaeological site in Germany.

The site was excavated to build a new pipeline in the Bavarian town of Freising, about 25 miles northeast of Munich.

After examination, the skeleton was determined to be a man who would have been between 30 and 50 years old at the time of his death, which is believed to have been between 1450 and 1620 C.E.

The prosthetic on his hand is made of iron and non-ferrous metal. It is believed it would have been covered with leather, and archaeologists found gauze-like cloth inside the prosthetic for cushioning.

Analysis of the remaining bones showed that the four fingers on the left hand had been amputated while the man was still alive, leaving only his thumb.

“The hollow hand prosthesis on the left hand added four fingers,” said Walter Irlinger, head of the Bavarian State Office for Monument Protection, in a statement according to IFL Science. “The index, middle, ring and little fingers are individually formed from sheet metal and are immobile. The finger replicas lie parallel to each other, slightly curved. Presumably the prosthesis was made with straps [to be tied] on the stump of the hand.”

Skeleton With Prosthetic Hand

Bavarian State Office for Monument PreservationArchaeologists believe the skeleton is about 400 years old, dating to between 1450 and 1620.

A press release from the Bavarian State Office for Monument Protection described the find as “something special.”

It is unknown what caused this man’s death or the amputation of his fingers, but it is speculated that he may have been a victim of the Thirty Years’ War, fought across Europe between 1618 and 1648.

The Thirty Years’ War began as a religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants in the Holy Roman Empire.

When Emperor Ferdinand II came to power, he ordered all citizens of the empire to adhere to Roman Catholicism, violating the guarantee of religious liberty that had previously been promised in the 16th century during the Reformation.

The war escalated into a brawl for power over most of Europe. Essentially, the war was fought to determine who had more control over its citizens: the nation in which they lived, or the religion to which they belonged, according to the History Channel.

By the end of the Thirty Years’ War, Europe was divided into nation-states whose borders strongly resemble its countries today. The war effectively decided that the citizens of Europe were bound to the laws of their nation, not to their church or any other institution.

The prosthetic found in Freising is one of approximately 50 prosthetics that have been found across Europe to date. The prosthetics found are of varying sophistication and technical ability.

One of the most well-known prosthetics found is that of the Bavarian knight Götz von Berlichingen, who is said to have had an “iron hand.”

Von Berlichingen was a German medieval mercenary knight in the 16th century. He lost his right hand at the wrist during the War of the Succession of Landshut in 1503 or 1504 from cannon fire.

While a prosthetic hook hand was more common at the time, von Berlichingen wanted to maintain his mobility so he could continue to fight, as he was only 23 years old.

His first prosthetic hand had hinges that allowed him to grip a sword, but after years of fighting and looting, he decided to upgrade. His second prosthetic had joints at each knuckle and had spring-loaded mechanisms to lock the fingers into place.

“This allowed Götz von Berlichingen not only to use his right arm prosthetic with unparalleled control in battle, but also to hold the reins of his horse, play cards, write with a quill, or drink from a mug of ale,” according to ZME Science.

This new-and-improved prosthetic earned him the nickname “Götz of the Iron Hand,” and he lived to be 82 years old.

After reading about the skeleton found with a prosthetic hand, read about the ancient Bronze Age prosthetic hand found in Switzerland. Or, read about the medieval warrior who had his hand amputated and replaced with a knife.

Hannah Reilly Holtz
Hannah Reilly is an editorial fellow with All That's Interesting. She holds a B.A. in journalism from Texas Tech University and was named a Texas Press Association Scholar. Previously, she has worked for KCBD NewsChannel 11 and at Texas Tech University as a multimedia specialist.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Holtz, Hannah. "Archaeologists In Germany Just Unearthed A 400-Year-Old Skeleton That Had A Prosthetic Hand.", November 1, 2023, Accessed May 27, 2024.