Footprints from Fossils to Gallows

Footprints from Fossils to Gallows

Footprints from Fossils to Gallows: Adventures in Paleoanthropology, Primatology, and Forensic Anthropology.

University of Chicago professor Russell Tuttle was privileged to study one of the most dramatic and provocative fossil discoveries of the twentieth century: 3.66-million-year-old (MA) bipedal footprint trails at Laetoli, Northern Tanzania. This adventure concurrently led to invitations to join a team of barristers and solicitors in defense of two men accused of involvement in a murder in Winnipeg, Canada. The Queen's Counsel for the prosecution had engaged a certified forensic anthropologist, Louise M. Robbins (1928-1987), who had worked on a different section of the Laetoli footprints trails before him. Her claim to have developed a new science of human footprint analysis for forensic use and wild speculations about the makers of some Laetoli prints prompted him to question her scientific ability and method of footprint analysis (Tuttle 1986) and the judgment of fellow forensic anthropologists who supported her testimonials. We hope this book might lead to a better understanding of how science can serve our courts by using novel and well-established results of scientific research less adversarially with a view to achieve justice for all parties affected by crimes. Particularly, claims of new forensic methods should be tested thoroughly by peer review outside the courtroom before employment to decide matters of life and death. Dr. Robbins's decade of quackery is a prime example of how justice might be better served by early, thorough scrutiny of a claimant's novel methods and general scientific expertise.

In addition to relevant literature, my main source is correspondence among Drs. Robbins, Mary Leakey, and Michael Day; court records of barristers and myself from copies of correspondence in my files dating back to 1980 and Anthropology Archives at the Smithsonian Institution; and detailed reports prepared by Dr. Robbins and R. Tuttle concerning a criminal case in Winnipeg, Canada. Although I did not set out to write the book as a memoir, it quickly became thus as I recalled the experiences that shaped me as a paleoanthropologist. Previously, my research was on functional morphology, history of anthropology, and evolutionary biology in the USA and Europe.

Publication Date: 
May 30, 2023