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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Publication details for Dr Janelle Wagnild

Wall-Scheffler, C.M., Wagnild, J. & Wagler, E. (2015). Human footprint variation while performing load bearing tasks. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0118619.

Author(s) from Durham


Human footprint fossils have provided essential evidence about the evolution of human bipedalism as well as the social dynamics of the footprint makers, including estimates of speed, sex and group composition. Generally such estimates are made by comparing footprint evidence with modern controls; however, previous studies have not accounted for the variation in footprint dimensions coming from load bearing activities. It is likely that a portion of the hominins who created these fossil footprints were carrying a significant load, such as offspring or foraging loads, which caused variation in the footprint which could extend to variation in any estimations concerning the footprint’s maker. To identify significant variation in footprints due to load-bearing tasks, we had participants (N = 30, 15 males and 15 females) walk at a series of speeds carrying a 20kg pack on their back, side and front. Paint was applied to the bare feet of each participant to create footprints that were compared in terms of foot length, foot width and foot area. Female foot length and width increased during multiple loaded conditions. An appreciation of footprint variability associated with carrying loads adds an additional layer to our understanding of the behavior and morphology of extinct hominin populations.