Footprints are the impressions or images left behind by a person walking. 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 set of footprints in soft earth left by a life-form; animal tracks are the footprints, hoofprints, or pawprints of an animal.
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
The print left behind at a crime scene
can give vital evidence to the perpetrator of the crime. Shoes have different prints based on the sole
design and the wear that it has received – this can help to identify suspects. 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.
Footprints can also allow the detective to find the approximate height by the size of the shoe. The shoe tends to be approximately 15% of the person's height.
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 species known only by such evidence are known as ichnospecies. The Grallator is one example of a genus that has left no fossils other than ichnites.
The finding of footprints in the limestone beds of the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas show what some people have interpreted as human footprints alongside those of dinosaurs. This sparked the man track controversy, believed by some Creationists to show that humans and dinosaurs coexisted.
Other footprint findings
Footprints in myth and legend
The appearance of footprints, or marks interpreted as footprints, have led to numerous myths and legends. Some locations use such imprints as tourist attractions.
Examples of footprints in myth and legend include:
- Buddha footprint – an aniconic and symbolic representation of the Buddha.
- The Devil's Footprints – an unexplained series of hoof-like marks that appeared in Devon, England on 8 February 1855 after a light snowfall during the night.
- Golden calf – in Islam dust from the hoofprints of Haizum, the winged horse of archangel Gabriel, is used to animate the Golden calf.
- Moso's Footprint – a 1m by 3m rock enclosure in Samoa made when the giant Moso stepped over to Samoa from Fiji, and the other footprint can be found on Viti Levu, the largest island of Fiji.
- Footprints of Bigfoot, a cryptozoological animal, are said to give proof to its existence.
- Sri Pada, or Adam's Peak, a mountain in Sri Lanka, has a large footprint-shaped impression in the rock at its summit, said by various religious adherents to be that of the Buddha, Shiva or Adam.
- The reputed print of the right foot of Jesus is preseved in the Mosque of the Ascension in Jerusalem.
- A set of Jesus's footprints, according to legend, are preserved at the Church of Domine Quo Vadis outside of Rome.
- A mark in stone of the paving of the Munich Frauenkirche is known as the Teufelstritt ("Devil's Footstep").
Footprints in popular culture
The imagery of footprints has been used in many areas of popular culture. Several poems and songs have been written about them, with the religious poem Footprints
being one of the best known.
Prints or impressions of a child's feet can be kept as a memento by parents. 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.