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Ancient Surveying

Ancient Egyptian surveyors were part of a land administration system that was responsible for measuring and taxing land along the Nile River. Surveyors measured parcels of land and used stone markers to distinguish each for taxation. The Nile River flooded annually altering the amount of land available for cultivation and taxation each year. Consequently, surveyors were required to measure each land parcel and replace the stone markers following the yearly inundation. Surveyors also played a fundamental role in the construction of Ancient Egypt’s monuments. Aligning the Great Pyramid with the cardinal directions and providing a level base for construction fell on the shoulders of early surveyors.

The Ancient Egyptians had limited mathematical knowledge and only used primitive surveying tools. The most important tool for the land administration system was the 100 cubits long knotted rope. Similar to the Surveyors’ Chain used in the 18th century, the Egyptian measuring cord had knots tied every cubit to provide a standard of measurement.
Building on the Egyptian tradition, Classical Greek and Roman civilizations refined surveying with the expanded use of mathematics. Greeks surveyors were instrumental in laying out city grids and building monuments such as the Parthenon. Utilizing the knowledge passed to them through the Greeks, the Romans laid out miles of roads and canals across Europe – some of which are still in existence today.


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