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Leveraging Prehistoric Footwear to Reconstruct Ancient Running Biomechanics

Running is an important cultural practice among modern Diné and Puebloan peoples, and has roots in prehistoric practice. Oral history suggests running was important in ceremony, communication, hunting, and warfare. However, prehistoric prevalence and rates of participation in running are poorly documented due to a paucity of direct archaeological evidence. Biomechanics of ancient human runners are poorly understood. Increased understanding of ancestral human biomechanics combined with an evolutionary medicine approach will improve health outcomes in sports medicine.
The extensive collection of well-preserved prehistoric footwear from the Southwest and Colorado Plateau at the Natural History Museum of Utah can provide insight into running practices and biomechanics among ancient peoples of the region through non-invasive imaging (3D and CT) and assessment of use-wear in conjunction with experimental work in collaboration with health sciences researchers. Minimalist runners will be recruited to wear traditional yucca-fiber sandals, manufactured by Native collaborators, while running and walking on laboratory treadmills to generate materials-appropriate use-wear predictions. Experimental footwear will then be scanned to compare to prehistoric wear patterns.
This project addresses university strategic goals by developing new knowledge, providing deeply engaged learning opportunities to students, and engaging regional native communities to improve health.


Natural History Museum of Utah
Project Owner

School of Medicine

College of Science
School of Biological Sciences

College of Engineering
Mechanical Engineering

Project Info

Funded Project Amount

running biomechanics, minimalist running, ancient running, prehistoric Southwest and Colorado Plateau, prehistoric footwear, indigenous health, 3D geometric morphometrics, running gait mechanics, sports medicine, evolutionary medicine

Project Status
Funded 2020
Last Updated: 1/23/20