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Buzz Aldrin's bootprint on the Moon in 1969 on the Apollo 11 mission

Footprints 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 a set of footprints in soft earth left by a life-form; animal tracks are the footprints, hoofprints, or pawprints of an animal.

Painted footprints from a child on a piece of paper

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[edit]

Shoeprint left at crime scene

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.[1] 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.[2][3]

Footprints can also allow the detective to find the approximate height from,[4] footprint and shoeprint. The Foot tends to be approximately 15% of the person's average height.[5][6] 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.[5] In some forensic cases, the need may also arise to estimate body weight from the size of the footprints.[7]

Footprints have been shown to have determine the height and the sex of the individual.

Ridge patterns[edit]

Friction ridge skin present on the soles of the feet and toes (plantar surfaces) is as unique in its ridge detail as are the fingers and palms (palmar surfaces). When recovered at crime scenes or on items of evidence, sole and toe impressions can be used in the same manner as finger and palm prints to effect identifications. Footprint (toe and sole friction ridge skin) evidence has been admitted in courts in the United States since 1934.[8]

The footprints of infants, along with the thumb or index finger prints of mothers, are still commonly recorded in hospitals to assist in verifying the identity of infants. Often, the only identifiable ridge detail that can be seen on a baby's foot is from the large toe or adjacent to the large toe.

It is not uncommon for military records of flight personnel to include bare foot inked impressions. Friction ridge skin protected inside flight boots tends to survive the trauma of a plane crash (and accompanying fire) better than fingers. Even though the US Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL), as of 2010, stored refrigerated DNA samples from all active duty and reserve personnel, almost all casualty identifications are effected using fingerprints from military ID card records (live scan fingerprints are recorded at the time such cards are issued). When friction ridge skin is not available from military personnel's remains, DNA and dental records are used to confirm identity.

Ancient footprints[edit]

Replica of dinosaur footprints found in La Rioja

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.

An international team's discovery of a set of 1.5 million-year-old human ancestor footprints in Ileret, Kenya provides 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.[9]

Footprints suggesting the first making of shoes or sandals due to having crisp edges, no signs of toes found and three small divots where leather tying laces/straps would have been attached have been in South Africa dating back to between 73,000 and 136,000 PB.[10]

Further, in September 2021, scientists reported the discovery of human footprints in the state of New Mexico that are understood to be 23,000 years old, around the time of the last Ice Age.[11] Later studies, reported in October 2023, confirmed that the age of the human footprints to be "up to 23,000 years old".[12][13]

Other footprint findings[edit]

Footprints in myth and legend[edit]

One legend states that these impressions, kept in the Church of Domine Quo Vadis, are the footprints of Jesus.

The appearance of footprints, or marks interpreted as footprints, have led to numerous myths and legends. Some locations use such imprints as tourist attractions.

Détailed article Petrosomatoglyph

Examples of footprints in myth and legend include:

Footprints in popular culture[edit]

Jack Nicholson's shoe and handprints outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre

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.[27] 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ BBC News, 2 March 1998. "Footprints help to track down criminals". Accessed 28 July 2006.
  2. ^ BBC News, 30 June 2005. "Vandal caught by his footprints". Accessed 28 July 2006.
  3. ^ BBC News, 27 April 2006. "Footprints in snow lead to court". Accessed 28 July 2006.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b 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.
  6. ^ 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. S2CID 205910454.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ People v. Les, 267 Michigan 648, 255 NW 407.
  9. ^ Ancient 1.5 Million-Year-Old Footprints Show Earliest Evidence of Modern Foot Anatomy and Walking Newswise, Retrieved on 3 March 2009.
  10. ^ Helm, Charles W.; Lockley, Martin G.; Cawthra, Hayley C.; De Vynck, Jan C.; Dixon, Mark G.; Rust, Renée; Stear, Willo; Van Tonder, Monique; Zipfel, Bernhard (2023). "Possible shod-hominin tracks on South Africa's Cape coast". Ichnos: 1–19. doi:10.1080/10420940.2023.2249585. ISSN 1042-0940.
  11. ^ Zimmer, Carl (23 September 2021). "Ancient Footprints Push Back Date of Human Arrival in the Americas - Human footprints found in New Mexico are about 23,000 years old, a study reported, suggesting that people may have arrived long before the Ice Age's glaciers melted". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 September 2021.
  12. ^ Wei-Haas, Maya (5 October 2023). "New Evidence That Ancient Footprints Push Back Human Arrival in North America - Following up on a study in 2021 of tracks found in New Mexico, researchers used more methods to bolster the claim that the tracks are up to 23,000 years old". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 5 October 2023. Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  13. ^ Pigati, Jeffrey S.; et al. (5 October 2023). "Independent age estimates resolve the controversy of ancient human footprints at White Sands". Science. 382 (6666): 73–75. doi:10.1126/science.adh5007. Archived from the original on 7 October 2023. Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  14. ^ Queensland Parks and Widelife Service: Lark Quarry Conservation Park Archived 13 March 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Wong K (August 2005). "Footprints to fill. Flat feet and doubts about makers of the Laetoli Tracks". Sci. Am. 293 (2): 18–9. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0805-18. PMID 16053127. Archived from the original on 12 October 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2006.
  16. ^ "Egypt footprint 'could be oldest'". 21 August 2007 – via
  17. ^ 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. S2CID 10861457.
  18. ^ 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" (PDF). Bulletin of Volcanology. 71 (5): 479–93. Bibcode:2009BVol...71..479S. doi:10.1007/s00445-008-0235-9. S2CID 43686540.
  19. ^ Gathering the Jewels. "Prehistoric footprints, Uskmouth, Glamorgan Archived 4 January 2006 at the Wayback Machine". Accessed 28 July 2006.
  20. ^ Nakamura, J.J.M. (2009). "Hominid Footprints in Recent Volcanic Ash: New Interpretations from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park". Ichnos. 16 (1–2): 118–123. doi:10.1080/10420940802471001. S2CID 214651957.
  21. ^ "National Geographic press release 08/14/1997 Footprints from Dawn of Modern Humans found". National Geographic Society. Archived from the original on 30 January 1998. Retrieved 8 September 2008.
  22. ^ Ashton, Nicholas (7 February 2014). "The earliest human footprints outside Africa". British Museum. Archived from the original on 7 February 2014. Retrieved 7 February 2014.
  23. ^ "Oldest human footprint found in the Americas confirmed in Chile: researcher – Reuters". Reuters. 26 April 2019. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  24. ^ Japanese Buddhist Statuary, 14 January 2005. "Stone footprints of the Buddha". Accessed 28 July 2006.
  25. ^ "The Devil's Footprints Archived 9 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine". Accessed 28 July 2006.
  26. ^ "Libra the Scales Archived 18 June 2006 at the Wayback Machine". Accessed 28 July 2006.
  27. ^ Check Footprints

External links[edit]