Bournemouth University

School of Conservation Sciences

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Ancient footprints come to life in 3D

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A scan of the world-famous Nahoon Footprints A scan of the world-famous Nahoon Footprints

BU Professor Matthew Bennett has performed a ground-breaking laser scan of the world-famous Nahoon Footprints to allow him to study and compare them to other similar footprints found around the world.

The footprints are on display at the East London Museum in South Africa. Assisted by Sarita Morse of Rutgers University, Professor Bennett used an optical laser scanner to enable him to create a three-dimensional computer model of the footprints which are believed to date from around 124,000 years ago.

Professor Bennett is the first scientist to use this technology on the Nahoon Footprints. The scans will allow him to study and compare them to other similar footprints found around the world. He said that once a comprehensive study of the three dimensional image was complete, he would hope to provide further information about who may have made the footprints including the body weight and height of the individual.

“We’re looking at similar footprints that were found at Langebaan in the Western Cape and in Tanzania, Central America, and Europe and are busy building a database of footprints from around the world,” said Professor Bennett.

“The scanner allows us to record a high resolution data image of the footprints, which we can study and compare with the footprints we’ve found at the other sites.”
The Nahoon Footprints, thought to be around 124,000 years old, were discovered in 1964 in a calcified dune overhang near Bats Cave in South Africa by employees from the East London Museum. They were the world’s first fossil human footprints discovered at an ‘open air’ site and extracted after the overhang collapsed. It is believed that an early human ancestor, probably a child, made the prints in a layer of sand which quickly filled with water and later turned to sandstone.

In February this year, Professor Bennett’s work featured as the cover story in Science when he concluded that footprints recently discovered near Ileret in Northern Kenya were left by one of our evolutionary ancestors, Homo erectus. The footprints, made some 1.51 to1.53 million years ago, are the first in the world to reveal a modern foot anatomy and function with evidence that whoever left them walked much like we do today.

In July, Professor Bennett joined an international team from Rutgers and George Washington Universities in collaboration with the National Museum of Kenya. The team excavated another 28 square metres of footprint surface dated to 1.4 million years ago to the south of Koobi Fora in Area 103 some 45 kilometres south of the main footprint site featured in the original Science paper.