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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Science Policy

Preserving the Impossible: Conservation of Soft-Sediment Hominin Footprint Sites and Strategies for Three-Dimensional Digital Data Capture
Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Author: Matthew R. Bennett et al.

by Matthew R. Bennett, Peter Falkingham, Sarita A. Morse, Karl Bates, Robin H. Crompton

Human footprints provide some of the most publically emotive and tangible evidence of our ancestors. To the scientific community they provide evidence of stature, presence, behaviour and in the case of early hominins potential evidence with respect to the evolution of gait. While rare in the geological record the number of footprint sites has increased in recent years along with the analytical tools available for their study. Many of these sites are at risk from rapid erosion, including the Ileret footprints in northern Kenya which are second only in age to those at Laetoli (Tanzania). Unlithified, soft-sediment footprint sites such these pose a significant geoconservation challenge. In the first part of this paper conservation and preservation options are explored leading to the conclusion that to ‘record and digitally rescue’ provides the only viable approach. Key to such strategies is the increasing availability of three-dimensional data capture either via optical laser scanning and/or digital photogrammetry. Within the discipline there is a developing schism between those that favour one approach over the other and a requirement from geoconservationists and the scientific community for some form of objective appraisal of these alternatives is necessary. Consequently in the second part of this paper we evaluate these alternative approaches and the role they can play in a ‘record and digitally rescue’ conservation strategy. Using modern footprint data, digital models created via optical laser scanning are compared to those generated by state-of-the-art photogrammetry. Both methods give comparable although subtly different results. This data is evaluated alongside a review of field deployment issues to provide guidance to the community with respect to the factors which need to be considered in digital conservation of human/hominin footprints.
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