Land Surveying: Then and Now

Used by contractors and solicitors alike, land surveyors serve a wide variety of purposes for a whole range of different industries. Because of this, it's a complex and ever-changing job with different techniques, equipment and requirements for every job they work on. That leads to a lot of technology updates each year — but compare it to techniques used when the discipline was first practised and there's barely any resemblance to modern-day land surveying at all.

Pegs and Ropes

Where modern land surveyors might use 3D imaging and lidar laser sensors, their ancient Egyptian counterparts would simply make do with ropes pegged to the ground and stretched between points they wished to measure. Clearly, they managed to make it work, having constructed such incredible and impressive structures as the pyramids, but it would naturally have been much more time- and labour-intensive than contemporary techniques.

On Foot

In the Middle Ages in western Europe, practices were even more rudimentary. Borders would be established by making citizens walk around the perimeter of a land border, ingraining it into their memories. It was so vital that these memories held, and that they persisted for a long time, that it was ensured a wide range of ages made up the walking group. Clearly, this technique was less focused on measurement or analysis and more on defining borders — but it makes for an interesting comparison against the distant techniques used today.

Approaching Modernity

Unlike most pieces of surveying equipment now lost to history, the first theodolites were invented in the 16th century but are still used by surveyors today. Modern theodolites are extremely precise at measuring angles; sometimes the devices are designed to measure the same angle from both sides and then average out the two results, allowing for even more accuracy.

By comparison, the original theodolites were very simple and prone to small deviations between measurements. They were originally designed to give surveyors the ability to measure both horizontal and vertical angles with the same machine more so than to provide exceptional accuracy and even sometimes required the use of a compass alongside them to ensure a decent result.

Now that modern technology can be relied upon for precision and near-instantaneous results, land surveyors have a much less physically taxing job — but these days, it's far more complex. As the market changes and more tasks are required of them, it will likely grow even more complicated. As such, it's certainly a good thing that their work no longer relies on simple pegs and ropes!