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Keywords:

  • footprints;
  • human ichnology;
  • bipedalism;
  • Namibia;
  • Ileret

ABSTRACT

We report a Holocene human and animal footprint site from the Namib Sand Sea, south of Walvis Bay, Namibia. Using these data, we explore intratrail footprint variability associated with small variations in substrate properties using a “whole foot” analytical technique developed for the studies in human ichnology. We demonstrate high levels of intratrail variability as a result of variations in grain size, depositional moisture content, and the degree of sediment disturbance, all of which determine the bearing capacity of the substrate. The two principal trails were examined, which had consistent stride and step lengths, and as such variations in print typology were primarily controlled by substrate rather than locomotor mechanics. Footprint typology varies with bearing capacity such that firm substrates show limited impressions associated with areas of peak plantar pressure, whereas softer substrates are associated with deep prints with narrow heels and reduced medial longitudinal arches. Substrates of medium bearing capacity give displacement rims and proximal movement of sediment, which obscures the true form of the medial longitudinal arch. A simple conceptual model is offered which summarizes these conclusions and is presented as a basis for further investigation into the control of substrate on footprint typology. The method, model, and results presented here are essential in the interpretation of any sites of greater paleoanthropological significance, such as recently reported from Ileret (1.5 Ma, Kenya; Bennett et al.: Science 323 (2009) 1197–1201). Am J Phys Anthropol 151:265–279, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.