Surveying has been critical to the development of modern society. Across the centuries, surveying has helped our ancestors map their terrain. It has laid the foundations for our roads and cities. It even played a core role in the legal division of parcels of land. The boundaries of our natural and constructed world are determined by the work of surveyors – and they started working quite a long time ago.
Back to the beginning, over 5,000 years ago
In recent years, much of the technology that today’s surveyors employ – including photogrammetry and 3D scanners – have been put to use investigating the history of archaeological sites around the planet. But did you know that one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites is one of the earliest examples of the work of surveyors?
Experts believe that the creation of Stonehenge was set out by the surveyors of the day utilising peg and rope geometry. This was over 5,000 years ago, and one of the earliest known concrete examples of surveying work.
Introducing the Domesday Book
Jumping forward well over a thousand years, we come to a significant event in the year 1086. It was then that England’s William the Conqueror ordered the completion of the Domesday Book, a record of landowners and the plots they occupied. This was a massive undertaking, defining the exact boundaries on personal property.
From the date of William’s order in 1085, a total of 13,418 items were recorded. This encompassed more than rural land parcels, although that was certainly the focus: other records transcribed included the boundaries of whole counties and towns.
The journey to today
In the centuries since William’s Domesday edict, technology evolved significantly and speedily. So too did the role of the surveyor, with many scientific discoveries impacting the surveying world.
Just three or four centuries into the future, the theodolite, a key item in the surveyor’s toolkit and the grandfather of today’s total station, was formally in use at surveying set outs. By the late 18th century, British mathematician Jesse Ramsden was revolutionising the profession with high accuracy surveying instruments – including a perfected version of the theodolite. At the dawn of the industrial revolution in the 19th century, surveying was booming, as the demand for road, railway, canal, building and city constructions grew like never before. To match this, the equipment grew ever-more sophisticated. With the 20th century and the arrival of computer technology and orbiting satellites, surveying was set to change once again.
Surveying may look very different from how it appeared 5,000 years ago, but many of the fundamental principles remain the same. To read more about the history of land surveying, head over here!