A rare artifact of the 19th-century process of mapping and parcelling out the American frontier was found recently, unexpectedly, by scientists looking for different types of history altogether.
Exploring remote forests to study the age of trees, Dr. Evan Larson and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin-Plateville’s TREES Laboratory stumbled on a carved tree, which helped mark the boundary between two sections (square miles) of land. This “bearing tree” was placed in 1894 by federal surveyor Guy A. Eaton.
“It is rare to find evidence of the original public land surveys and this find is an exciting link to our past,” the Superior National Forest published in a Facebook post.
The surveys were an essential part of America’s westward (and northward) expansion. The young government needed to know just what it owned after achieving independence and after subsequent purchases. A bearing tree was inscribed with unique markings, and its location in relation to a parcel corner recorded, so the corner could be easily verified and restored if needed.
Larson and his team of dendrochronologists were in the area studying red pine. They use tree rings to study the environment in which the trees have lived. It can help understand the history of an area and better plan for its future.