I may have my dates wrong on this, but I’m close.
About 1993 they found a Viking dragon ship in the muck of the bogs of Northern England. Archeologists excavated it and did whatever they do to clean it all up. But then somebody had the question, where did it come from. So they started looking and tried to figure out how to figure out where this Viking longship came from. After floundering for months, somebody came up with the bright idea to take a core sample from the keel of the ship (because typically on a wooden ship, the keep is the singular larges piece of lumber in its construction). So they took the core sample and started studying the growth rings. By studying the growth rings they were able to tell the weather patterns of the years during the trees growth (flood, draught, fire, etc.). So once they figured out the weather patterns they started looking around for another record of weather dating back 800(?) years. What they finally came to first start comparing to, was arctic snow/ ice core samples. Comparing the two they were able to identify the exact year which that tree was cut down in order to make the keel. Continuing with the fascination of the idea, they decided to see if they could find the forest used to make the ship. They went around the port, that became the bog the ship was found in and finally found a “forest” of stumps buried a few feet underground a couple of miles away. So they started digging around and digging up stumps and wouldn’t you know it, lo and behold they actually managed to find the exact tree that became the keel. How did they know it was the same tree? The growth rings of course.
So they started looking around at other trees of this forest and comparing it to other parts of this longship and were able to identify several other parts back to specific trees. Somewhere along during this the forestry ministry of England heard about what they were doing and went and asked them how accurate they could be. The response was, they’ve been 98% accurate in identifying parts of the shop and various other artifacts that they had found. So the ministry came up with a great idea.
Now see there’s a little known problem around the world – poaching – of trees. Some will call it illegal logging, but it’s basically the definition of going into protected lands and cutting down rare and endangered species of trees in order to sell them from profit. But now we’re back to the fingerprints. When you cut down a tree you leave a stump. That stump has growth rings, those growth rings are the trees fingerprint, and now we can find and track the log. So this is just what the English forestry ministry proposed. What they proposed was simple, take a data base of the fingerprint/ growth ring of every log harvested.
Somehow, somebody in NATO thought this was a great idea. So around 2003 this became standard practice for any responsible nation. Now, can we catch the random little tribesmen in the jungle cutting down a tree? No. Can we tell that a tree has been illegally harvested? Yes. Can we track that illegally harvested tree back to its source? Absolutely. At least as far as the first man who bought it. And he of course is the problem. So now we can lock him up and the villager or tribesman can get a commission to legally harvest when and where appropriate. Thereby protecting the natural resources.
So I’m thinking this is going to be one huge database at some point, with all of the gazillion trees cut down worldwide every year. But, it’s kind of a nice thought that in a 1000 years somebody will be able to find my table and track it down to the forest that it started in. Hopefully they’ll appreciate the work I’ve done.