Faces in the Wilderness: a New Network of Crossdated Culturally-Modified Red Pine in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of Northern Minnesota, USA

Evan R. Larson, Lane B. Johnson, Thomas C. Wilding, Kalina M. Hildebrandt, Kurt F. Kipfmueller, Lee R. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


New dates from culturally modified red pine rediscovered in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota provide an opportunity to merge tree-ring records of human land use with archaeological records, historical travel accounts, and traditional knowledge to enhance understanding of Anishinaabeg land tenure in the Wilderness. Records from 244 culturally modified trees (CMTs) demonstrate varying intensities of human use along historical water routes, notably the Border Route that connected Grand Portage to Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods during the North American fur trade. Crossdated modification years from 119 CMTs provide direct evidence of human-landscape interaction along historical travel routes utilized by Anishinaabeg and Euro-American traders from the mid-1700s to the early 1900s. This CMT network preserves a fading biological record of fur-trade-era cultural history that contributes to a growing cross-cultural conversation on the storied traditional use of a cultural landscape that is now the most visited federal wilderness area in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)747-764
Number of pages18
JournalHuman Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was only possible with the support and efforts of a broad network of collaborators. Fieldwork was rigorous and could not have been completed without substantial efforts from Ben Matthys, Liz Schneider, Danica Larson, Ryan Brown, Heather Hoffman, Liam Martin, John Eads, Elizabeth Tanner, and Nicholas Harnish. The ideas and understanding that guided our approach to this research were shaped through numerous conversations with collaborators and stakeholders. Bill Latady provided valuable insight in the development of this project and facilitated conversations with members of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa. Brian Jackson and Trevor Gibb invested in this process and helped us connect with members of the Lac La Croix First Nation. Conversations with Elders, council members, and knowledge carriers of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and Lac La Croix First Nation guided our approaches to sampling and helped form our interpretations of the tree-ring data. Sharing of stories and perspectives among the People, Fire, and Pines working group supported by the Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis (CfAS) shaped our interpretations of the data reported here, the implications derived for reconciling stewardship of the protected areas in the Border Lakes with the ever-growing understanding of the Border Lakes as a cultural landscape rather than a wilderness, and our approach to disseminating this work. Immense thanks to Jeff Savage, Jessica Atatise, and Robin Kimmerer for their collaboration in this effort. Finally, we wish to acknowledge that this work offers only a glimmer of the deep cultural heritage of the Border Lakes Region, and that the land in which we worked has seen the footsteps and paddles of many cultures, including Lakota, Assiniboine, Cree, and Anishinaabeg. To all those who have gone before, gichi-miigwech. The datasets developed and analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Funding Information:
Funding for this study was provided by National Science Foundation grants 1359868, 1359863, and 1560919, the Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis, and the USDA Forest Service.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Author(s).


  • Anishinaabe landuse
  • Boundary Waters Canoe Crea Wilderness
  • Culturally modified trees
  • Fur trade
  • Minnesota, USA


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