England's New Forest National Park Shares Digital Library of Centuries-Old 'Witch's Marks' Tree Etchings

Johann Jaritz, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
Johann Jaritz, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0 / Johann Jaritz, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Southern England is home to a forest that resembles something out of a horror movie. In New Forest National Park, the trees are etched with symbols dating back hundreds of years—some of which were intended to ward off evil spirits. Now, you can experience the park and its "witch's marks" without venturing out into the woods alone. As BBC reports, the arborglyphs of New Forest are available to view online.

An arborglyph is a marking carved into the bark of a tree. These etchings can signify many things. The "king's mark," one of the most common glyphs in New Forest National Park, was an arrowhead shape used by the Royal Navy to mark trees reserved for shipbuilding through the early 1800s. As iron and steel became common ship materials, wood fell out of favor, and many of the trees marked for harvest were left to grow.

Visitors to the woods will also find concentric circles and double Vs etched into the trees. These so-called witch's marks may have been used as protective charms against evil spirits. Similar symbols dating back to the 16th century have been found in caves, barns, and churches throughout England.

After calling on visitors to submit their tree graffiti photos, the park has made the pictures free for anyone to view on its website. The site features dozens of digital images and an interactive map pinpointing each carving to its specific location. In addition to king's marks and witch's marks, the forest is also filled with dates, initials, and drawings spanning 500 years of English history. You can take a virtual tour of the site here.

[h/t BBC]