The study of tracks, trails,


and other animal traces.





'A footprint is not an impression of a foot; it is an expression of the forces acting through a foot'
Dr P Manning

L.lutra, left manus

Footprints are a peculiarly attractive and familiar reminder of the presence of otherwise invisible animals. There are, however, many other traces of their activities, such as burrows and tooth-marks, and it is perhaps a mistake to attempt to isolate footprints as a unique area of study. This website should therefore be seen as presenting footprints as a starting-point in ichnology.

Ichnology, the study of animal tracks and traces, derives from the Greek word ichnos, meaning a track.

Until recently tracking was seen as a harmless pastime for boy-scouts, only taken seriously by hunters and certain fictional detectives, but since the 1970s there has been an upsurge in interest fuelled by two parallel scientific approaches: firstly, the discovery by American palaeontologists of the abundance and information-potential of fossil tracks, and secondly, a realisation by forensic scientists that a footprint can identify an individual almost as certainly as a fingerprint.

Archaeologists have long acknowledged the value of traces such as graffiti and inscriptions in understanding the past, but footprints are not written in Sumerian or Latin and were long considered irrelevant. Increasing interest in environmental archaeology has now given footprints a toehold and discoveries such as Laetoli have even produced headlines.