Human Footprints




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By Gillcraft

Daniel Defoe, who lived two hundred years ago, wrote in Robinson Crusoe: "It happened one day, about noon, going toward my boat, I was exceedingly surprised with the print of a man's naked foot on the shore, which was very plain to be seen in the sand. . . . I went to it again to see if there was any more, and to observe if it might not be my fancy; but there was no room for that, for there was exactly the very print of a foot - toes, heel, and every part of a foot."

We can see the same effect for ourselves if we step out of the bath on to the floor or on to a cork mat. We might not be so surprised to see it, but we might be surprised to know that on the average two feet in every million might be similar.

The study of human footprints is a very interesting one, and is not used so much as it might be for the purpose of observation practices and tracking in general. An evening in winter can very profitably be spent in comparing the footprints made by two different Scouts. All the materials required are some water and a flat surface, for which a floor will suffice.

Good and permanent footprints can be taken by using ordinary printer's ink. The person making the print should step on to a metal slab covered lightly and evenly with ink, and then step on to a piece of white, thick paper stretched on a flat board. It is best then for him to make another step into a bath of turpentine without delay!

Good boot makers now record a customer's Foot-Chart in the following way. A thin rubber sheet (1/16 inch) is stretched in a frame which resembles a photographic printing frame. Before stretching it in the frame the lower side of the sheet is marked with ordinary "rubber- stamp" ink spread with a rubber roller. The chart is fixed on the bed of the frame which is 'A in. below the rubber sheet when in position. The customer steps on to the frame in stocking foot and off again. When he does so the rubber sheet is pressed against the chart below, and leaves a fairly accurate representation of his footprint, while the stocking remains quite unaffected.

A collection of the footprints of each member of the Troop will prove of great interest and afford scope for much comparison and a certain amount of deductive reasoning. Incidentally, but none the less important, such a collection may tell the Scouter that some of his Scouts need more care taken of their feet than is being given them. Some may be flat-footed, some may have deformed feet, some may have other kinds of foot trouble. It is a fact that a great deal of suffering and permanent injury is caused by boys wearing ill-fitting boots, more especially in families where boots are passed down from one to another without any consideration being paid to the fact that the shape of the second wearer's feet may differ entirely from those of the first wearer.

The value of the science of fingerprints has now been accepted, and it is a matter of commonplace knowledge that a man can be traced by his fingerprints, and that the characteristics of these prints remain constant throughout his life. One cannot advance the same claim in regard to footprints with the same degree of accuracy, but there are several instances on record of people being traced by their footprints.

I remember a case of murder in which a footprint was the only clue. The village headman had been brutally murdered. Alongside the body on a clean cloth was a dusty footprint. The man who made the footprint, a close relative, was found some hundred miles away, and the print was the only thing which connected him at all with the crime, which he subsequently admitted.

A real professional tracker learns in time to be able to recognize a person from his foot impression as easily as he can from his face.

In a certain Indian village there was an old Mohammedan who was much respected, and reputed to be both devout and strict in his interpretation of the Mohammedan law and practices. Early one morning the village tracker was wandering idly down the street through the bazaar. Half-sleepily he said to himself: "I wonder what Ram Bux," for so we will call the old Mohammedan, "was doing out so late last night." Still half-asleep he wandered on to awake with a start in front of the village wine shop, for he saw that Ram Bux's footprints led therein. "And what is more," he said to himself sorrowfully, "Ram Bux has not only entered the wine shop, but he has drunk therein, for lo! do I not see his footprints coming forth from the shop like unto those of a drunken man?" And so Ram Bux's prestige was lowered in the eyes of the whole village, for a devout follower of the Prophet does not drink wine.

To show that it is not impossible to distinguish one person's footprint from another I will describe the twelve chief features which go to make up the print made by a human foot. (See p. 73.)

It is difficult to distinguish these features unless there is a fixed axis and perpendicular to guide the eye, and so these have been placed in the illustration. The true axis of the foot is a line that passes through the centre of the heel to the centre of the big toe. From this axis the best perpendicular is the line that just touches the lowest edge of the little toe. As a further help a third line has been drawn from the tip of the big toe to the tip of the little toe.

Having considered the illustration, it is now possible to make an analysis of the particular features. First come the toes. The average person possesses five toes, but I have seen people with three, four and six. Under each toe there is a pad which is the only part of the toe that normally comes into contact with the ground when walking. It can be easily seen how it is possible for the positions of the toes of two different footprints to differ. Some are long; some are short; some are missing in the impression, which is not an infrequent occurrence due to a toe being doubled back by wearing ill-fitting boots. In some cases all three inside toes are above the diagonal line; in some cases one or other or all of them fall on this line. In some cases the second toe is longer than the big toe. In some cases the third toe is furthest from the diagonal line; in other cases the fourth is. In some cases there is a space between the second and third toes, in others there is a larger space between the third and fourth. And so one could go on, but that is sufficient to show the number of different pictures the five toes alone could give.

In order to follow the other distinguishing features it is best to consider the illustration geographically, and to imagine that the axis of the foot lies due north and south, the toes being towards the north.

Behind, and separated from, the impressions of the pads of the toes lies the edge of the impression of the sole of the foot. The only name I know for this line is the Indian trackers' term zanjeri, so let us call it the north coast line. Just as one coast line differs from another so does this line in one foot differ from the similar line in another foot. Sometimes there are four convex promontories; sometimes four concave bays. Sometimes there are three promontories, or two; sometimes there are two, or three, bays. Sometimes there is a gradual slope from behind the big toe to the back of the little toe; sometimes there is a sharp descent which runs down below the perpendicular line, and so on.

Keeping to the same terminology, and continuing our travels, we come to the east coast formed by the outer side of the sole of the foot. I trust that it is unnecessary to say that the illustration shows the print of a right foot! Usually this line is fairly straight, but some feet have a bulge towards the north, and others a bulge towards the south. Some even have four slight promontories, some a promontory about midway down the line, and some a shallow curved bay.

And so we travel round to the south cape, which is of course the heel. Here we may find a nice delicate oval cape, or a bluff one; it may be long, or it may be short; it may be pronounced, or it may be rather an indeterminate feature of the landscape.

The west coast has, as a general rule, a longer coast line than the east, for it marks where the inner side of the foot touches the ground. It is noticeable for the great bay caused by the instep. If the foot is properly arched, this bay is deep. If there is a tendency to flat-foot, the bay is correspondingly shallow. Occasionally there is hardly any trace of a bay at all.

It will be noticed that in the illustration the axis crosses the bay, and the length of this line from shore to shore is an important feature, which together with the five islands lying off the north coast (the toes), and the three coast lines, north, east, and west, and the south cape (the heel), give ten distinctive features. There are still, however, two others given by the impression of the sole of the foot.

One is the mainland, the ball of the foot, which varies greatly in size and shape.

The other is the isthmus that connects the south cape to the mainland, and is formed by that part of the instep which does touch the ground, the western bay being formed by that part of the instep which does not touch the ground. This isthmus can be short and broad, or long and narrow; it can be parallel to the base line, or at an angle to it.

So when we consider these twelve main distinctive features of the human footprint, and the differences that can exist among them, it is more easy to comprehend the possibility of a trained man being able to recognize one person from another by their footprints. If there were only three common types of each of the features, and there was nothing else to go upon, the total possible number of different types has been computed at 531,441!

In point of fact there are more than three common types of each, and these twelve features are not all we have to rely on. Two very important features are given by the length and breadth of the impression, that is, the length of the axis from the tip of the big toe to the back of the heel, and the length of the perpendicular from the outer edge of the little toe to the inner edge of the ball of the foot. It is to be remembered that these measurements will not be the same necessarily as similar measurements of the foot itself, and that it is impossible to compare a footprint with the actual foot; another impression has to be made and compared with the first.

Again many feet have creases, cracks, scars, and other peculiarities that all show in a clear impression, and afford extra evidence for purposes of identification.

When two impressions are being compared with each other in order to find out if both have been made by the same foot, it must be clearly understood that, if they have been made by the same foot, they will agree in all essential points. If there are points of disagreement, and these have not obviously been caused by an irregularity in the ground, then the two impressions cannot be attributed to the same foot, even if they are alike in certain particulars.

It should be obvious too that a man's footprint will not look the same when he has been standing still as it will when he has been walking, but I will leave till later the consideration of that question.

Take for instance the murder of the village headman; when the murderer was traced his connection with the crime was not clearly established until he had walked unconsciously over a similar cloth placed in a similar position, and under similar conditions in regard to dust, etc. The word unconsciously needs emphasis because a man can alter the appearance of his footprints if he is thinking of what he is doing. A shuffle as he walks, or the placing of the foot at a different angle to his line of walk, or a slight twist as the foot meets the ground, will make all the difference to the impression his foot makes.

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