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Who made the prints?

Foot Notes

I am sometimes asked how to estimate the height of the Mesolithic and Neolithic people of Formby Point and, especially, determine whether a footprint was made by a male or a female.

Stature: Generally speaking, the distance between the big toe and the heel-strike is approximately 15% of a person's height.  As a quick calculation:

          Height = Foot Length x 7. 

Obviously, whether in the past or today, there are going to be tall people with small feet, and small people with large feet, but this can be a useful guide when estimating the height of Formby's prehistoric inhabitants.

Gender Difference: The male foot is broader and sturdier than the female's and has a flatter heel, whereas a female foot is narrower, has a higher arch, a shallower big toe and a smaller, more rounded heel.  So, with identical foot lengths, if you measure the width of the foot across the metatarsals and then relate that to foot length from the big toe to the heel-strike, the ratio is generally greater for females than it is for males.

Maturity: When taken together, height and gender let you deduce the maturity of individuals, ie whether the footprints were made by adolescents or adults.  Determining the gender of children is more difficult because the bone and muscle structure of the foot may not yet be fully developed.

Abduction:  The gap between the big toe (the Hallux) and the second toe is also a useful factor in indicating maturity.  It is an age-related deformity among the habitually unshod; the degree of abduction increases as an individual becomes older and the big toe can become very prominent.

But these are only rough guidelines.  Nevertheless, research undertaken for the US military relating to manufacturing combat boots for women ('Sexual Dimorphism in Foot Shape', Wunderlich and Cavanagh) indicated 93% success in identifying gender by foot shape.  But these experiments were carried out in ideal conditions, not in intertidal Holocene mud.  It is hard to achieve such a high degree of accuracy when investigating the exposed, eroded and eroding, prehistoric footprints of Formby Point.  All the same, why don't you carry out Foot length-Stature calculations on yourself, your family and those around you?

Finally, a sobering thought about maturity.  In the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, average life expectancy for adults was in the mid thirties and infant mortality was high.  For some of those children stomping around on the edge of the intertidal lagoon and whose tiny footprints were baked into the mud that hot day five thousand years ago, this may have been their last summer........

Foot Notes