An identification system involves the labeling then tracking of grouped items such as logs, shipping containers, or packets of mail and reporting the current location of identified items during transport, processing, and storage. Machine-readable labels are provided, adapted for recognition and reading from within a cluttered scene. These labels have bordering indicia--used for locating purposes--distinguishable from inner informative indicia. Bordering indicia include either a series of small substantially similar marks like filled or hollow ovals, or one circle, or part of a circle, or a sequence of locating symbols or characters. Informative indicia include dots, bars, rings, or regional text characters. Multiple coding methods and spatial (e.g. Latin Square) replication of indicia are used to minimize errors. A machine-vision image decoder comprises a high-resolution camera adapted for field use and a remote image processing computer to analyze the image and make reports listing or showing items within the image as identified by labels.