Integration of biplanar X-ray, three-dimensional animation and particle simulation reveals details of human 'track ontogeny'

Interface Focus. 2021 Aug 13;11(5):20200075. doi: 10.1098/rsfs.2020.0075. eCollection 2021 Oct 6.


The emergence of bipedalism had profound effects on human evolutionary history, but the evolution of locomotor patterns within the hominin clade remains poorly understood. Fossil tracks record in vivo behaviours of extinct hominins, and they offer great potential to reveal locomotor patterns at various times and places across the human fossil record. However, there is no consensus on how to interpret anatomical or biomechanical patterns from tracks due to limited knowledge of the complex foot-substrate interactions through which they are produced. Here, we implement engineering-based methods to understand human track formation with the ultimate goal of unlocking invaluable information on hominin locomotion from fossil tracks. We first developed biplanar X-ray and three-dimensional animation techniques that permit visualization of subsurface foot motion as tracks are produced, and that allow for direct comparisons of foot kinematics to final track morphology. We then applied the discrete element method to accurately simulate the process of human track formation, allowing for direct study of human track ontogeny. This window lets us observe how specific anatomical and/or kinematic variables shape human track morphology, and it offers a new avenue for robust hypothesis testing in order to infer patterns of foot anatomy and motion from fossil hominin tracks.

Keywords: X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology (XROMM); discrete element method; footprints; palaeoanthropology; trace fossils.

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.5486374