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Has Anyone Used GIS and Remote Sensing to aid in fossil hunting?


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Suchascenicworld

Hello everyone!

 

Fossil hunting is massive hobby of mine and I am trying to find new localities (that are of course, legal). I have a background in GIS and Spatial Analyses (albeit, working on completely different things!) and was thinking about using my geo-spatial skills to narrow down a few areas. In so far, I have layers dedicated to streams, bedrock, and DEM but I was curious if others have used GIS and remote sensing to aid in fossil hunting, and if so, are there any specific layers  or techniques that you find to be particularly useful when searching for areas that may have fossils? Thank you! 

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FranzBernhard

DEM = Digital Elevation Model = Airborne Laser Scan = LIDAR?

 

I am using a combination of DEM / aerial photographs / topo maps / geological maps / sometimes historic maps or mine plans.

Here is an example of an overgrown, fossiliferous stone heap, stones were collected from the former nearby fields, now meadows. Farmer "Klöckl" was selling fossils in the 1960ies, he collected them from his fields. Some ended on the stone heap, fortunately. 

Everything is freely available in Styria, Austria, but not at the best resolution, though. But its usually good enough. Beside all this fancy techniques, ground work is still needed to confirm everything. And then - a big old quarry may yield nothing, some rocks just lying around in the nearby forest may be highly fossiliferrous. 

Franz Bernhard

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LabRatKing
14 hours ago, Suchascenicworld said:

Hello everyone!

 

Fossil hunting is massive hobby of mine and I am trying to find new localities (that are of course, legal). I have a background in GIS and Spatial Analyses (albeit, working on completely different things!) and was thinking about using my geo-spatial skills to narrow down a few areas. In so far, I have layers dedicated to streams, bedrock, and DEM but I was curious if others have used GIS and remote sensing to aid in fossil hunting, and if so, are there any specific layers  or techniques that you find to be particularly useful when searching for areas that may have fossils? Thank you! 

I use a few GIS  apps constantly...then again, I do a lot of field biology work too, and in the past worked in limnology...so various GIS based systems are pretty much the new standard.

 

It has pros and cons though. If you have access to the appropriate GIS software it is excellent for logging new sites in addition to working with recent geologic survey data. The downside is that very little historical data is compatible. So for instance, if you are digging through a big pile of journal articles about a specific site, all of which predate 2000, you are going to deal with a mish-mash of GPS, traditional longitude and latitude, decimal long and lat, and over a half dozen of various survey and land use mapping data systems.

 

To be perfectly honest however, I overall prefer good old fashioned degrees-minutes-seconds and a Brunton pocket transit (and sometimes a map compass) and some topo maps in the field. In 2018 and 2019 I tried planning excursions in the field using both methods. In 2018 I was attempting to predict locations for seasonal wetlands. In '19 I was tracking down remote and poorly documented fossil sites. To be honest, I had better luck with geologic surveys and topos than I did with the digital hybrids. Six of the Seven elusive "Cowboy Pass" ammonite sites did not show at all on the digital record but one old style geosurvey map from 1989 showed that in fact there is a total of 28 sites if you know where to look and are willing to do some serious overland hiking.

 

Begrudgingly I have been forced to use decimal coordinates in recent years as the "smart" phone generation doesn't know how to navigate or find anything otherwise...and few folks realize they can chose freely between coordinate types in any app worth using. I have sent more than a few students back in the field to re-log their location data because they thought a Google or Apple maps pin was sufficient.

 

In the field, dependence on digital methods is a sure-fire way to have issues. They are only good till the batteries die.

 

Then again, perhaps I'm just old and grouchy...:zzzzscratchchin:

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1 hour ago, LabRatKing said:

 

 

In the field, dependence on digital methods is a sure-fire way to have issues. They are only good till the batteries die.

 

Then again, perhaps I'm just old and grouchy...:zzzzscratchchin:

Me too, on the old and grouchy thing.  But I also carry two GPSes and two sets of batteries... AND the topo map.  

 

As for GIS stuff, the closest I get is Google Earth and Google Maps.  Very useful.

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LabRatKing
39 minutes ago, jpc said:

Me too, on the old and grouchy thing.  But I also carry two GPSes and two sets of batteries... AND the topo map.  

 

As for GIS stuff, the closest I get is Google Earth and Google Maps.  Vert uesful.

My wife made me get one of those combo GPS navigator/emergency beacon thingies, but I don't trust it. I think she did this because she can't comprehend compasses and transits. Now I have to lug around a folding solar cell and emergency USB battery block. That is a whiskey bottle worth of weight...

 

I wish every state in the US had  these for research and planning purposes:

https://blm-egis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=6be0174d44f04f1c853197cadcfa89f0

https://geology.utah.gov/apps/intgeomap/

It is the best of GIS functions, though sorely lacking on personal functions like pinning locations and only uses one coordinate system.

Was able to use the BLM map with the geo survey map and plan my entire 2021 trip in a week thanks to this bad boy. Last year I did it the old fashioned way and it took four months

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ParkerPaleo

In the late 90's, we used a GPR to map/prospect a sauropod quarry.  It told us there was bone everywhere.  We removed 3 camarasaurus supremus, a brachiosaur, a barosaurus, and an allosaur from that quarry.  The entire layer was bone...  which the GPR detected, but not sure the GPR helped any.  Not a very controlled test when so much comes out of a single hill.

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LabRatKing
4 hours ago, ParkerPaleo said:

In the late 90's, we used a GPR to map/prospect a sauropod quarry.  It told us there was bone everywhere.  We removed 3 camarasaurus supremus, a brachiosaur, a barosaurus, and an allosaur from that quarry.  The entire layer was bone...  which the GPR detected, but not sure the GPR helped any.  Not a very controlled test when so much comes out of a single hill.

I was lucky enough to get to play with a GPR (ground penetrating radar for those unfamiliar) around that time period at an archeology dig I weaseled my way into by volunteering to do any and all ^%$#work at first.

 

It was a beast, but did some cool stuff. These units have come a long way in the last 30 years however and just one person can map an entire site solo with instant results. These new models have direct upload and overlay to GIS apps which I imagine is a dino hunters dream. With the advent of high resolution, low power radar now, I expect GPR will be like xray specs very soon.

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ParkerPaleo

That'd be interesting to see/play with.  We had to take our data back to the university to be processed so we had excavated the first sauropod before we had results from the GPR.  Since our field pings said there was bone everywhere, we thought it was a failure.  Little did we know we found a bone bed.

 

If only I liked dinosaurs enough to dig them again :)  Excavating a sauropod is alot more work than I want these days.

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LabRatKing

Aye, these days, one dude walks the grid with the lawnmower sized unit and then just plugs in his smartphone/tablet/laptop- near instant results.

Rumor has it that a certain military, helicopter based GPR will have a civilian model in the near future, meaning results in minutes rather than hours...but I know nothing and you didn't hear it from me...:default_rofl:

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ParkerPaleo

If it can detect White River microfauna, I'm in!

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I have used GIS before, there might be some useful geological shapefiles publicly available through the USGS or EPA.

 

Although I do think a topographic map might be a bit easier and may accomplish the same task.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I do a lot of GIS for work, but haven't used it much for hobbyist fossil hunting (except for using Earth like most of us do). Around here a lot of fossil sites are in streams. I've used LiDAR before to map those streams and their catchments, so of course that would work to "find" fossil sites in a general sense of finding streams, but it would be overkill because most of them show up on online vector maps pretty reliably.

 

To find streams, I've used the EPA "Waters" dataset, which you can get as a KMZ. I don't love it, but sometimes it shows streams or stream names not seen on your phone's map app.

https://www.epa.gov/waterdata/viewing-waters-data-using-google-earth

 

If you really care about streams, NHD datasets are free.

 

If you had a bunch of core sampling data that would be useful obviously. That's what these guys must have used to make this awesome map of my area:  https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2013/1030/

 

On the coast  LiDAR is freely available. I use the site below all the time. Here in SC, the newest 2016 state-wide sets are great and get well into the intertidal zone.

https://coast.noaa.gov/dataviewer/#/

Theoretically I could use the LiDAR DEMs to find stream beds and also evidence of phosphate mining, which both might be kind of local indicators of fossil sites. But it's kind of a stretch honestly.


You'd really have to care a lot to go to the trouble of using these methods around here. I think knowing the general area is key, and seeing with your eyes is the only way to recognize a truly good potential site.

 

G

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  • 2 weeks later...
TriloCrabs
On 1/11/2021 at 7:48 AM, LabRatKing said:

I use a few GIS  apps constantly...then again, I do a lot of field biology work too, and in the past worked in limnology...so various GIS based systems are pretty much the new standard.

 

It has pros and cons though. If you have access to the appropriate GIS software it is excellent for logging new sites in addition to working with recent geologic survey data. The downside is that very little historical data is compatible. So for instance, if you are digging through a big pile of journal articles about a specific site, all of which predate 2000, you are going to deal with a mish-mash of GPS, traditional longitude and latitude, decimal long and lat, and over a half dozen of various survey and land use mapping data systems.

 

To be perfectly honest however, I overall prefer good old fashioned degrees-minutes-seconds and a Brunton pocket transit (and sometimes a map compass) and some topo maps in the field. In 2018 and 2019 I tried planning excursions in the field using both methods. In 2018 I was attempting to predict locations for seasonal wetlands. In '19 I was tracking down remote and poorly documented fossil sites. To be honest, I had better luck with geologic surveys and topos than I did with the digital hybrids. Six of the Seven elusive "Cowboy Pass" ammonite sites did not show at all on the digital record but one old style geosurvey map from 1989 showed that in fact there is a total of 28 sites if you know where to look and are willing to do some serious overland hiking.

 

Begrudgingly I have been forced to use decimal coordinates in recent years as the "smart" phone generation doesn't know how to navigate or find anything otherwise...and few folks realize they can chose freely between coordinate types in any app worth using. I have sent more than a few students back in the field to re-log their location data because they thought a Google or Apple maps pin was sufficient.

 

In the field, dependence on digital methods is a sure-fire way to have issues. They are only good till the batteries die.

 

Then again, perhaps I'm just old and grouchy...:zzzzscratchchin:

Any recommendations on the GIS apps you use?

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LabRatKing
7 hours ago, TriloCrabs said:

Any recommendations on the GIS apps you use?

ArcGIS is the most accessible. The others I use generally aren’t available to the public and are so specialized they wouldn’t be any use to fossil hunters.

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Now that I think of it, using ArcGIS Collector, the mobile app, might be useful to log information while in the field to mark the location of your finds in relation to the site you are at.

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LabRatKing
3 hours ago, Runner64 said:

Now that I think of it, using ArcGIS Collector, the mobile app, might be useful to log information while in the field to mark the location of your finds in relation to the site you are at.

Only if your device has bars, sadly. Most places I go barely get AM radio.

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  • 2 weeks later...
pachy-pleuro-whatnot-odon
On 1/11/2021 at 6:36 AM, FranzBernhard said:

DEM = Digital Elevation Model = Airborne Laser Scan = LIDAR?

DEM is indeed Digital Elevation Model, but this doesn't necessarily mean LiDAR. There are various way to generate a DEM, with LiDAR being one of them and good old-fashioned contour-lines being another.

 

On 1/11/2021 at 4:48 PM, LabRatKing said:

Begrudgingly I have been forced to use decimal coordinates in recent years as the "smart" phone generation doesn't know how to navigate or find anything otherwise...and few folks realize they can chose freely between coordinate types in any app worth using. I have sent more than a few students back in the field to re-log their location data because they thought a Google or Apple maps pin was sufficient.

 

:zzzzscratchchin:

What's the objection against decimal coordinates? In effect they should be able to record exactly the same details as the more traditional degrees-minutes-seconds-notation, and one can easily convert between the two. Is it a matter of decimal precision, the margin of error that phone GPS-measurements entail, or something altogether different? Not that I have too much experience with GPS in the field, but as far as I know you'd need differential GPS to have an accurate reading - which is difficult to apply when you're miles away from the nearest point with known coordinates. I did this once on an archaeological field-work project. Took us a day to transfer a coordinate to our site, so that we could proceed to take reliable GPS-measurements there...

 

On 1/12/2021 at 4:23 PM, ParkerPaleo said:

We had to take our data back to the university to be processed so we had excavated the first sauropod before we had results from the GPR.  Since our field pings said there was bone everywhere, we thought it was a failure.  Little did we know we found a bone bed.

 

Yeah, this is also more of the GPR I'm familiar with. Now it's been a decade or more since I last saw examples of the results obtained from using GPR at archaeological sites (and with advances in automated IR-theodolites I can only imagine the advances that may have been made with respect to GPR), but back in my day the results were not overly convincing, just very generic blobs in the ground that would only detect the very biggest of structures and only after - indeed - significant post-processing at the university.

 

On 1/12/2021 at 2:37 AM, LabRatKing said:

I expect GPR will be like xray specs very soon.

 

If this were true that would be amazing. I can't but imagine the advantages to any of the soil-based sciences...

 

On 2/10/2021 at 2:35 PM, LabRatKing said:

ArcGIS is the most accessible. The others I use generally aren’t available to the public and are so specialized they wouldn’t be any use to fossil hunters.

 

I'm not sure whether this package is still out there, but if you don't mind using raster-based GIS, @TriloCrabs, Idrisi is the GIS that came recommended by my university classes (obviously in addition to ArcGIS).

 

All in all, though, @Suchascenicworld, and even if I haven't used this approach myself, it seems that there's definitely some utility to using GIS to locate fossil sites. However, you'd need to combine a lot of different sources of information, most important of which would seem to be DEM, geological ages and accessibility - i.e., streams, mines, quarries, spoil heaps, roads, forest cover, etc.. For some of this information, you'll need to dig deep into historical sources (documents, maps, local knowledge) - which, though not uncommon for people like archaeologists to do, is much more time-consuming than the mentioned simply having your feet on the ground. Notwithstanding, I think it would make a very interesting research project to try and determine just how easily you would be able to detect fossil-sites using only GIS means.

 

But, just to illustrate that you can find new sites even with Google Earth, I'd like to share the following video:

 

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LabRatKing

@pachy-pleuro-whatnot-odon

 

I don’t like decimal coordinates primarily as they are dependent on battery power in the field. If a decimal compass/ transit was a thing, I’d use them more often. Also there is one format of traditional. There are eight different decimal standards and none are map and compass compatible...also google LST 1194...that is what happens when you trust gadgets and decimal coordinates over map, compass, and transit.

 

As for GPR, ultra high resolution/pulse repetition is a reality with surface and air radar for over a decade...only a matter of time for ground to catch up! It’s going to be great to see bones, rather than blotch s and wavy lines!

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pachy-pleuro-whatnot-odon
1 hour ago, LabRatKing said:

I don’t like decimal coordinates primarily as they are dependent on battery power in the field. If a decimal compass/ transit was a thing, I’d use them more often. Also there is one format of traditional. There are eight different decimal standards and none are map and compass compatible...also google LST 1194...that is what happens when you trust gadgets and decimal coordinates over map, compass, and transit.

Oddly enough, learning to use a compass was never part of our archaeology training. I guess the part of the world we were meant to end up working (Western to Central Europe) is too densely populated to really have to rely on a compass only... Much more focus was placed on learning how to use the theodolite, for example. As such, I only know the rudimentary basics of navigating by compass...

 

I also didn't know there are multiple digital formats to encode longitude and latitude. I always simply assumed that you'd use the below formulas to convert to decimal and back (source: Wikipedia). Of course, this undeniably introduces some rounding errors as minutes and seconds don't conform to the decimal system, but always considered there only being one possible - most logical - way to do this.

660247017_decimaldegreecalculation.png.43f38b4e46e6842c8edef964b0b06939.png

 

306332893_degreesminutessecondscalculation.png.510fa735284c2aec2eb14d086b865801.png

 

However, reviewing the Wikipedia-article on geographical coordinate conversion, I read that conversions are also frequently done to convert between different map projections. Is this what you meant as to the digital formats? And doesn't traditional degree-notation suffer from this?

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LabRatKing
2 hours ago, pachy-pleuro-whatnot-odon said:

Oddly enough, learning to use a compass was never part of our archaeology training. I guess the part of the world we were meant to end up working (Western to Central Europe) is too densely populated to really have to rely on a compass only... Much more focus was placed on learning how to use the theodolite, for example. As such, I only know the rudimentary basics of navigating by compass...

 

I also didn't know there are multiple digital formats to encode longitude and latitude. I always simply assumed that you'd use the below formulas to convert to decimal and back (source: Wikipedia). Of course, this undeniably introduces some rounding errors as minutes and seconds don't conform to the decimal system, but always considered there only being one possible - most logical - way to do this.

660247017_decimaldegreecalculation.png.43f38b4e46e6842c8edef964b0b06939.png

 

306332893_degreesminutessecondscalculation.png.510fa735284c2aec2eb14d086b865801.png

 

However, reviewing the Wikipedia-article on geographical coordinate conversion, I read that conversions are also frequently done to convert between different map projections. Is this what you meant as to the digital formats? And doesn't traditional degree-notation suffer from this?

Exactly. The errors, rounding, and such result in huge issues, particularly in the middle of nowhere where the usual digital stuff doesn't work. In particular, I feel that anything that needs between 4 and ten decimal places when the GPS data is only accurate to around ten meters is just unnecessary junk that is more likely to result in significant errors.

 

Here is why I have issue with it as there are no non digital compasses. All of these formats are “standard”:

 

DF92DA93-9775-4789-951B-77BC13420BCB.pngAnd now you know where my office is located...

 

But as you can see digital grid data in decimal for varies greatly. You and I likely aren’t even thinking of the same system!

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LabRatKing

Here's a bit more in depth about some types of coordinate systems used by GIS...

 

It gets even crazier when one includes differing map styles.

 

https://www.esri.com/arcgis-blog/products/arcgis-pro/mapping/coordinate-systems-difference/

 

But this is the king of accuracy anywhere on this planet, mapping and navigation (and what I use in the field along with a traditional map compass). Not a decimal to be found.

(And with a few extra bits, can do most everything larger surveying equipment can do!)

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brunton_compass

 

 

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Thomas.Dodson

Like a lot of others I use GIS for work but don't use it often for fossil hunting aside from basic Google Earth stuff. I could have seen myself using it for more stream fossil sites in Georgia but I had access to comprehensive maps for the whole state going back decades at work anyway.

 

1 hour ago, LabRatKing said:

Here's a bit more in depth about some types of coordinate systems used by GIS...

 

It gets even crazier when one includes differing map styles.

 

https://www.esri.com/arcgis-blog/products/arcgis-pro/mapping/coordinate-systems-difference/

 

But this is the king of accuracy anywhere on this planet, mapping and navigation (and what I use in the field along with a traditional map compass). Not a decimal to be found.

(And with a few extra bits, can do most everything larger surveying equipment can do!)

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brunton_compass

 

 

Mismatched/converted coordinate systems and differing map styles were the number one problem in ArcGIS classes in my undergrad. I'm now remembering just how many times I needed to help people get the right system.

 

I need to log some time learning different compasses. Admittedly I was never taught how to use a map compass but learned trimble units, GIS, and tons of different GPS devices. I'm sure this is a combination of being relatively young and simply not needing it yet since I usually don't trek off more than a few miles for field sampling at work or for fossils. :zzzzscratchchin:

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LabRatKing
3 minutes ago, Thomas.Dodson said:

Like a lot of others I use GIS for work but don't use it often for fossil hunting aside from basic Google Earth stuff. I could have seen myself using it for more stream fossil sites in Georgia but I had access to comprehensive maps for the whole state going back decades at work anyway.

 

Mismatched/converted coordinate systems and differing map styles were the number one problem in ArcGIS classes in my undergrad. I'm now remembering just how many times I needed to help people get the right system.

 

I need to log some time learning different compasses. Admittedly I was never taught how to use a map compass but learned trimble units, GIS, and tons of different GPS devices. I'm sure this is a combination of being relatively young and simply not needing it yet since I usually don't trek off more than a few miles for field sampling at work or for fossils. :zzzzscratchchin:

I bear the scars from banging my head on various work benches and keyboards over the years because of these issues.

 

If you are new to "orienteering" as map and compass work is called, I highly suggest a copy of this book pictured below.

61BNSRfzKUL.jpg

 

DO NOT trust websites...recently I noticed how bad, vague, and outright wrong much of the information is, even on well known, well respected outdoors sites. They give you just enough info to get you lost. Used to be the Boy Scout Handbook was an excellent resource, but it has been severely dumbed down (and the orienteering merit badge book is just a list of requirements), but if you have or can get a pre-1998 edition, it is pretty good.

 

The most important thing to remember is to look up the current declinations for your area, and using a real topo map, like the ones available free from USGS. That suggested book will cover all that.

 

I also suggest NOT dropping a grand on a Brunton Transit, unless you need it for work.

 

For around 20USD you can get both an excellent map compass, and an excellent field compass. (Trust me, it is best to have one of each)

 

For beginner compasses, I suggest the following:

 

Map Compass:

Coghlan'S Deluxe Map Compass - Walmart.com - Walmart.com

 

Field Compass: Brand Name is "Eyeskey" Lensatic Compass, there are others of the exact same design, but I found them to be substandard due to the ultralightweight mineral oil or even worse, water/glycol used to fill them.

shopping?q=tbn:ANd9GcTHLvYKrPBNUpbygmYMpsyJX3A2g_ElFrqpxKAX1MSx0kXUteEUceW3hK0MduJ8DF57ymAlQ211-citijgljCo_H90JKpEM1kZJTEcsq6k1JZ2oGijdvgosTg&usqp=CAE

 

These are both inexpensive and more than functional for beginners.

 

For advanced and pro-grade map compasses, Suunto and Silva are the top brands...however, I lost my Suunto in the river last season, and had zero issues using my Coghlan's though I did end up about 100 meters off on my plotted course. For a field compass, I use the one that was issued to me on active duty when I don't need/want to lug around my Brunton. You can get mil-surplus ones for relatively low prices if you search.

 

The only app I have found that is relatively trustworthy off line is Spyglass, which is the paid version of Compass Commander. I will note however, that the app is highly unreliable on or off line, and has its limits for navigation. This is more due to the over sensitivity of the accelerometers in modern phones, and the fact that both Apple and Android OS took away user calibration.

 

Finally, I suggest any "newbie" brush up on their metric distance measurements....the math is easier and the precision is much better than US or Imperial measures.

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LabRatKing

I should add that once you know how to use the old school method to navigate, one can "reverse engineer" the methods to mark your site on your map. However, you are limited to your eyes or a range finder, so it is best to know how you got there first!

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