Footprints & Fieldwork!

Next week I get a chance to get out in to the field when I am due to visit the Roccamonfina footprint site in central Italy about 60 Km from Naples.  It is quite a well known footprint site and certainly the oldest in Europe.  Roccamonfina is a stratovolcano located north of the Campanian plain and the Devil’s footsteps are preserved in one of the ash layers on its flank and where first publicised by a group of Italian colleagues in 2003 (Mietto et al., 2003; Nature 422).  There are around 56 prints forming three trackways recording the movement of one or more individuals adopting a ziz-zag path as they negotiated a soft and potentially unstable slope formed of volcanic ash.  In terms of anatomical detail the prints are not perfect due to the slope and consistence of the ash, but at 350,000 years old they fill an important gap in our understanding of the evolution of gait which is the main thrust of my current NERC grant held jointly with Liverpool University.  We hope with Italian colleagues to document the prints using photogrammetry to preserve their digital signature for comparison with other footprint sites such as those we found in northern Kenya back in 2009.  Above all else for me it is nice to be let out of the office to enjoy a brief spell of fieldwork!

My last spell in the field was back in December when I was working in Namibia on a much younger footprint site (<2000 years old) which has some fantastic prints and provides a perfect laboratory with which to explore the control of substrate on print formation.  The research team made a short video clip during this trip which much to my embarrassment has just made it to the website in Applied Sciences, but despite my shyness it does give you an idea of what sort of tasks I get involved with when in the field.  You can watch the video if you are interested here: httpv://

I am keen to hear about your fieldwork or research experiences so why not post on the blog about these as well?

Professor Matthew Bennett

PVC (Research, Enterprise & Internationalisation)