Land surveyors played a key role in the development of the Human environment during ancient times and continue to do so today. Some argue that land surveying is one of the oldest professions in the world and I would have to agree after digging through the history of land surveying.
Let’s take a look at where it all began.
Along with the conceptualization of land ownership came the need to establish boundaries of plots, usually due to border disputes. Now, this might sound like a story you overheard yesterday around your Heritage Day braai, but as it turns out, this type of conflict is ancient. The first land surveyor can be traced as far back as 2700 BC.
Although there doesn’t seem to be much evidence apart from a couple of hieroglyphs and artefacts, it is believed that the first land surveyors emerged during ancient Egyptian times. They were known as Harpedonaptae which can be directly translated to Rope Stretcher.
A Rope Stretcher would use geometry and simple surveying tools, such as rope and plumb bobs, to re-establish the borders of plots against the Nile river after annual floods.
The near-perfect North-South orientation and shape of the Great Pyramids of Giza also strongly suggest the implementation of land surveying techniques.
The next example of ancient land surveying can be found in Greece and Rome as early as 400 BC. The Groma is an ancient survey instrument which was designed and produced in Mesopotamia ( today known as Iraq ). The Groma was used by the Romans to sub-divide the Roman Empire for taxation purposes. The Romans were the first civilization to recognize land surveying as a profession, and an honourable one at that. The Romans called land surveyors Gromatici.
Further development of land surveying tools came about 280 years later. The Diopter or Dioptra was created by the Greeks around 120 BC and is believed to be the forerunner of the modern Theodolite. The Diopter was originally used by Greek astronomers to measure the positions of terrestrial and astronomical figures but continued to be used as an effective surveying tool.
Land surveyors collect and record data so it can be used for current and future purposes. Today data will end up in digital form where it will be safely preserved for many years to come.
This was not always the case. Back in Medieval Europe, where only an elite few were educated and able to read and write, Beating the Bounds was put in the place to record the boundaries of a village.
During Beating the Bounds a group of village inhabitants would assemble and walk around the village as a unit. Together they would memorize certain landmarks to establish the boundaries of the village. They would always include young boys in their posse to ensure the memory would be carried forward for generations to come.
Let us fast forward to the year 1086. William the Conqueror, who was the ruler of England at the time, ordered “The Great Survey” for the collection of data which were to be recorded in the “Domesday Book”, as the English people dubbed it. The information consisted of the names of landowners and property elements such as size, boundaries, contents and other inhabitants.
This was quite the milestone for land surveying as it remains one of the fundamental purposes of modern land surveying. The collection and preservation of terrain data.
It is safe to say, for as long as humans have a need to own land, there will always be a need for the noble land surveyor.