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Improving Recording and Interpretation of Fossil Tracks

Wiseman, A (2019) Improving Recording and Interpretation of Fossil Tracks. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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Hominin fossilised trackways are commonly used to reconstruct locomotory behaviour and to characterise track-maker biometrics. They are the most direct representation of hominin locomotion available, yet the recording and measurement of the tracks and the subsequent interpretation to characterise the track-maker is problematic. The fossil sites are susceptible to extreme cases of erosion, often resulting in the destruction of the fossil beds. In this project, a series of experiments using non-invasive methods tested the applicability of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology to rapidly and accurately record footprints before further damage to the fossil interface occurred. Various flight paths, UAVs and camera types were incorporated to test the accuracy in minute depth reconstruction and subsequent 3D mesh creation. Data from the UAV was compared to traditional handheld methods of 3D modelling. Results indicated that a handheld DSLR camera following a circular path should be deployed to record fossil footprints. After successfully identifying the best practise for creating 3D reconstructions of footprints, this study sought to determine if the track-maker was identifiable from print shapes. An experimental study that combined morphological assessments with that of 3D motion capture systems to record modern human movement across different substrates at several speeds examined the variability in footprint shapes and investigated if these shapes can be used to infer biometric and/or biomechanical information about the track-maker. Numerous patterns of morphology were recognised, such as the changing prominence of the midfoot impression associated with limb posture, and a ridge-like impression that extends across the forefoot associated with an effective toe-off on a looser sediment. The latter was identified in a number of fossilised footprints. Although the internal morphology of tracks was sensitive to changes in shape concurrent with a range of variables (substrate typology and kinematics), track outlines were much more consistent within an individual. Outlines were statistically compared between tracks from nine different fossil localities, ranging from the Pliocene to the Holocene. It was established that all prints belonging to Homo species are statistically similar in outline shape, but disparate from prints associated with australopithecines. The main conclusion of this thesis as a whole is that functional morphology can be inferred from fossil tracks. Track morphologies are sensitive to substrate and speed, which need to be considered and approximated for accurate identification of the track-maker. The reconstruction of biometrics, however, needs to be refined by further analytical methods.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: human evolution; evolutionary biomechanics; fossilised footprints
Subjects: C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CC Archaeology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography
Divisions: Natural Sciences & Psychology (closed 31 Aug 19)
Date Deposited: 04 Jul 2019 08:22
Last Modified: 05 Oct 2022 08:48
DOI or ID number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00010970
Supervisors: De Groote, I, O'Brien, T and Bezombes, F
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/10970
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