Footprints (or footmarks) are the impressions or images left behind by a person walking or running. Hoofprints and pawprints are those left by animals with hooves or paws rather than feet, while "shoeprints" is the specific term for prints made by shoes. They may either be indentations in the ground or something placed onto the surface that was stuck to the bottom of the foot. A "trackway" is set of footprints in soft earth left by a life-form; animal tracks are the footprints, hoofprints, or pawprints of an animal.
Footprints can be followed when tracking during a hunt or can provide evidence of activities. Some footprints remain unexplained, with several famous stories from mythology and legend. Others have provided evidence of prehistoric life and behaviours.
Footprints in detective work
The print left behind at a crime scene can give vital evidence to the perpetrator of the crime. Shoes have many different prints based on the sole design and the wear that it has received – this can help to identify suspects. Photographs or castings of footprints can be taken to preserve the finding. Analysis of footprints and shoeprints is a specialist part of forensic science.
Some detective work is relatively immediate, with criminals being tracked by the footprints they left in the snow leading from the crime scene to their home or hiding place. This is usually reported as a humorous story in news publications.
Footprints can also allow the detective to find the approximate height from, footprint and shoeprint. The Foot tends to be approximately 15% of the person's average height. Individualistic characteristics of the footprints like numerous creases, flatfoot character, horizontal and vertical ridges, corns, deformities etc. can help the forensic scientist in cases pertaining to criminal identification. In some forensic cases, the need may also arise to estimate body weight from the size of the footprints.
Foot prints have been shown to have determine the height and the sex of the individual.
Footprints have been preserved as fossils and provide evidence of prehistoric life. Known as "ichnites", these trace fossils can give clues to the behaviour of specific species of dinosaur. The study of such fossils is known as ichnology and the footprints may be given scientific names (ichnospecies). Grallator is one example of an ichnogenus based on ichnites. Strictly speaking, an ichnospecies is the name of the trace fossil, not of the animal that made it.
For example, an international team's discovery of a set of 1.5 million-year-old human ancestor footprints in Ileret, Kenya has shown the earliest direct evidence of a modern human style of upright walking. The team believe that the prints were probably formed by the species Homo erectus.
Other footprint findings
- Lark Quarry - the only known palaeontological record of a dinosaur stampede.
- Siwa Oasis – World's oldest hominid footprint discovered, over 3 million years old.
- Laetoli – human footprints from the Pliocene era (3.7 million years ago) preserved in volcanic ash.
- Koobi Fora – 1.5 million hominin footprints in Kenya showing essentially modern bipedal locomotion.
- Acahualinca – 2,100 year old human footprints fossilized in volcanic ash and mud in Nicaragua.
- Uskmouth – human footprints carbon dated to 4200BC preserved in clay.
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Footprint impressions found in the Ka’u Desert ash within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
- Footprints of Eve – the oldest known footprints of an anatomically modern human.
- 1790 Footprints - a set of footprints on the island of Hawaii
- Happisburgh footprints - footprints of about five adult and children members of Homo antecessor dating to more than 800,000 years before present, found at Happisburgh in England.
Footprints in myth and legend
The appearance of footprints, or marks interpreted as footprints, have led to numerous myths and legends. Some locations use such imprints as tourist attractions.
Examples of footprints in myth and legend include:
- Buddha footprint – an aniconic and symbolic representation of the Buddha.
- The Devil's Footprints – an unexplained series of hoof-like marks that appeared in Devon, England on 8 February 1855 after a light snowfall during the night.
- Golden calf – in Islam dust from the hoofprints of Haizum, the winged horse of archangel Gabriel, is used to animate the Golden calf.
- Moso's Footprint – a 1m by 3m rock enclosure in Samoa made when the giant Moso stepped over to Samoa from Fiji, and the other footprint can be found on Viti Levu, the largest island of Fiji.
- Footprints of Bigfoot, a cryptozoological animal, are said to give proof to its existence.
- Sri Pada, or Adam's Peak, a mountain in Sri Lanka, has a large footprint-shaped impression in the rock at its summit, said by various religious adherents to be that of the Buddha, Shiva or Adam.
- The reputed print of the right foot of Jesus is preserved in the Mosque of the Ascension in Jerusalem.
- A set of Jesus's footprints, according to legend, are preserved at the Church of Domine Quo Vadis outside of Rome.
- A mark in stone of the paving of the Munich Frauenkirche is known as the Teufelstritt ("Devil's Footstep").
Footprints in popular culture
The imagery of footprints has been used in many areas of popular culture. Several poems and songs have been written about them, with the Christian poem Footprints being one of the best known.
Prints or impressions of a child's feet can be kept as a memento by parents. Usually this is done using paint. The impressions of celebrity's feet, usually in concrete, may be kept in a collection such as that outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
- BBC News, 2 March 1998. "Footprints help to track down criminals". Accessed 28 July 2006.
- BBC News, 30 June 2005. "Vandal caught by his footprints". Accessed 28 July 2006.
- BBC News, 27 April 2006. "Footprints in snow lead to court". Accessed 28 July 2006.
- Krishan K, Sharma A (August 2007). "Estimation of stature from dimensions of hands and feet in a North Indian population". J Forensic Leg Med 14 (6): 327–32. doi:10.1016/j.jcfm.2006.10.008. PMID 17239650.
- Krishan K (March 2008). "Estimation of stature from footprint and foot outline dimensions in Gujjars of North India". Forensic Sci. Int. 175 (2-3): 93–101. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2007.05.014. PMID 17590549.
- Krishan K (December 2008). "Determination of stature from foot and its segments in a north Indian population". Am J Forensic Med Pathol 29 (4): 297–303. doi:10.1097/PAF.0b013e3181847dd3. PMID 19259013.
- Krishan K (July 2008). "Establishing correlation of footprints with body weight—forensic aspects". Forensic Sci. Int. 179 (1): 63–9. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2008.04.015. PMID 18515026.
- Ancient 1.5 Million-Year-Old Footprints Show Earliest Evidence of Modern Foot Anatomy and Walking Newswise, Retrieved on 3 March 2009.
- Queensland Parks and Widelife Service: Lark Quarry Conservation Park
- CNN: Human footprint may be oldest ever found
- Wong K (August 2005). "Footprints to fill. Flat feet and doubts about makers of the Laetoli Tracks". Sci. Am. 293 (2): 18–9. PMID 16053127.
- Bennett MR, Harris JW, Richmond BG, et al. (February 2009). "Early hominin foot morphology based on 1.5-million-year-old footprints from Ileret, Kenya". Science 323 (5918): 1197–201. Bibcode:2009Sci...323.1197B. doi:10.1126/science.1168132. PMID 19251625.
- Schmincke, H.-U., Kutterolf, S., Perez, J., Rausch, J., Freundt, A., Strauch, W. (2008). "Walking through volcanic mud: the 2,100 year-old Acahualinca footprints (Nicaragua). I Stratigraphy, lithology, volcanology and age of the Acahualinca section". Bulletin of Volcanology 71 (5): 479–93. Bibcode:2008BVol..tmp...48S. doi:10.1007/s00445-008-0235-9.
- Gathering the Jewels. "Prehistoric footprints, Uskmouth, Glamorgan". Accessed 28 July 2006.
- Nakamura, J.J.M. (2009). "Hominid Footprints in Recent Volcanic Ash: New Interpretations from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park". Ichnos. 16: 118–123. doi:10.1080/10420940802471001.
- "National Geographic press release 08/14/1997 Footprints from Dawn of Modern Humans found". Retrieved 2008-09-08.
- Ashton, Nicholas (7 February 2014). "The earliest human footprints outside Africa". British Museum. Retrieved 2014-02-07.
- Japanese Buddhist Statuary, 14 January 2005. "Stone footprints of the Buddha". Accessed 28 July 2006.
- MysteriousBritain.co.uk. "The Devil's Footprints". Accessed 28 July 2006.
- "Libra the Scales". Accessed 28 July 2006.
- Krishan K (July 2007). "Individualizing characteristics of footprints in Gujjars of North India—forensic aspects". Forensic Sci. Int. 169 (2-3): 137–44. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2006.08.006. PMID 16965880.
- Devesh V Oberoi (2006). "Estimation of Stature and Sex from Foot print length using regression formulae and standard foot print length formula respectively". Journal of Punjab Academy of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology 6: 5–8.