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The photograph from Smena showing the supposed footprint

The photograph from Smena showing the supposed footprint

According to a story published in the Soviet newspaper Smena (1961, number 8), a group of Chinese and Soviet palaeontologists, directed by Dr Chow Ming Chen, found the impression of what resembled a ribbed sole in sandstone in 1959. The stratum was dated to two million years old. The size of the ‘footprint’ is said to correspond to European size 43 and that grooves running the length of the ‘sole’ could be distinguished and there were even traces of the stitching.

This type of claim is very difficult to deal with, as the source for the story is a daily (and somewhat sensationalist) newspaper, not a scientific publication. The only evidence that can now be evaluated is the poor quality photograph published by Smena and subsequently reproduced by a number of fringe authors. It is scarcely impressive evidence: it does not really resemble the print of a shoe and its size can be guessed by comparison with the hand that is holding it to be no more than 200 mm and probably rather less. This enables us to dismiss the claim that it belonged to a size 43 shoe instantly! Moreover, the shape is hardly shoe-like and it does not live up to the enthusiastic descriptions of stitching. Bad Archaeology enthusiasts ought to ask themselves why there is no other report of the alleged discovery: if they wish to pursue claims of an academic/establishment conspiracy to suppress a forbidden truth, they should explain why it was allowed to be published in a newspaper, where it would be read by many more people than if it had simply been ‘buried’ in a little read technical journal.

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