Tompkins Surveying and Mapping
Your Professional Land Surveyor

The Basics

Surveying 101.


Surveying or land surveying is the technique, profession and science of accurately determining the terrestrial or three-dimensional position of points and the distances and angles between them. These points are usually on the surface of the Earth or beneath, and they are used to create land maps, boundaries or geographical features.


the measurements

The system is decimal US feet. The breakdown is as follows:

1"=0.08' (1"/12"=0.08')

1. We use the cardinal bearing system. S 89°56'49"W a distance of 49.23'.

2. We also use the trigonometric angles. Usually the interior angle of a geometric shape.


the surveyor

A surveyor is certified and competent in measuring, locating and establishing points on the Earth’s surface or below that require accuracy, legitimacy and legality. He or she has passed national and state exams to assure competency and licensed, allowing them to sign survey maps to certify locations.  The word "surveyor" means "overseer of the estate" in French. "sur" meaning over and "voir" meaning see. The word was used in the feudal system where the surveyor was responsible for borders.



In the state of Georgia, a registered surveyor must have at least 8 years of experience, have taken at least 20 college hours of surveying classes, and passed a series of state tests. He or she must possess the moral character of a professional as defined by Georgia law.


history: the egyptians

The first known surveyors were the Egyptians, who used a rope with consistent knots to measure. Surveyors were called "rope pullers" in Egypt. Despite the rudimentary tools, the Great Pyramid of Giza is only out of square a couple of inches over 255 feet. Egyptian surveyors were crucial to re-establish boundaries after the yearly flooding of the Nile, to assess land holdings for taxation and in construction, as evidenced by the measured orientation of ancient buildings. The Egyptians were the first known civilization to use the 3-4-5 triangle, which we know as Pythagorean's theorem. 


history: the greeks

The term “geometry” was first coined by a famous Greek land surveyor, Thales, who learned this combination of art and science in Egypt around 600 BC. “Geometry” is a combination of two words: “geo” meaning “land” and “metria” meaning “measure.” Therefore, geometry was first developed as a mathematical basis for "earth measuring." The Greeks were the civilization that significantly advanced the mathematical application to surveying. Through the Greeks we have a written process utilizing the Pythagorean theorem and the further study of triangles.


history: the romans

Roman surveyors were called  "agrimensores" or land measurers. Their focus was primarily on building roads and infrastructure for the military. They improved their tools and by so doing, improved their accuracy and modified their methods. While building aqueducts, the Romans used long wooden logs filled with water called “chorobates” and achieved a leveling accuracy of a half inch per mile. 

They also used a system of plumb bobs and a rod to get line of site and direction. Called the "groma," this method was used extensively by the military surveyors to build the roads in Rome and its sovereign states.


history: the europeans

Most of the laws and traditions we have in the United States of America were adopted from English property law, including the idea of "metes" and "bounds."  "Metes" are measurements taken to find the property corners. For example, "Smith's property is described as starting at a fence post at the Cartersville Rd. going N 84.12’12”E 125.45 Feet to an iron pin ... etc." "Bounds" defines the property lines according to who owns the property surrounding it. For example, "Smith's property is bounded on the east by Mr. Brown, on the North by the lands of Mr. Wills and on the west by the lands of Mr. Niblack."

‘Beating the bounds’ was a ritual in the English and Welsh cultures where the priests and elders of the community would take young children, usually boys, to walk the boundaries of the parish. ‘Beating’ came from the actual ritual where the priests or elders would hang the young boys upside down and hit their heads against the corners of the parish boundaries. Their assumption was that by hitting their heads against the boundary stones that the young boys would never forget where the corner was. These boys could grow up and serve as witnesses if ever there were a boundary dispute.

The first written instances of 'Surveying' for estates held by Lords or Nobility occurred in 1521. The first instance where mapping individual tracts became prevalent. King Henry VIII's estate sale after his death yielded hundreds of plats that he had held in one of his chests.


history: Struve’s Arc

The Struve Arc is a chain of survey triangulations stretching from Hammerfest in Norway to the Black Sea, through 10 countries and over 2,820 km. These are points of a survey, carried out between 1816 and 1855 by the astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve, which represented the first accurate measuring of a long segment of a meridian. This helped to establish the exact size and shape of the planet and marked an important step in the development of earth sciences and topographic mapping. It took 25 scholars and mathematicians three years to calculate and complete the math for Struve’s Arc. It was later measured by modern GPS and found to be within 9 inches of its calculated position.

Throughout the 19th century, the Struve Arc was the longest measurement of the form and size of our globe. It comprised 258 main arcs with 265 triangulation points in all, with 65 ancillary points. The Arc measurement traverses present-day Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. Struve’s work is remarkable as an early example of international scientific cooperation. Over the years he managed to extend the length of the arc, time and again being given funding by tsars and kings and the support of military teams to survey parts of the Arc. These were times when good maps were key to military advantage, and when clearly defined national borders were part of political alliances as Europe began to reorganize itself into nation-states during the 19th century.



 history: the american experience

The American public land system survey was born out of several necessities. The original thirteen colonies had already had some sort of system established mostly based on English law. (Metes and Bounds) But there was much debate and need for the land west to be settled and surveyed. Thomas Jefferson came up with a system that used squares divided into townships and ranges. This made dividing and distributing the land simple, straightforward and fast.


 history: the botched georgia-tennessee border

The border between Georgia and Tennessee as it exists today would be deemed incorrect with current technology.

In 1818, UGA math professor James Camak was tapped to survey the line between the two along with James Gaines, another mathematician who had been hired by Tennessee. Camak incorrectly placed the border not once, but twice. 

The result? If the survey had been done with today’s GPS, the state of Georgia would now include a section of the Tennessee River and Nickajack Reservoir, water that Georgia would certainly want. 

However, border legalities are not as cut and dried as simply defining where the line SHOULD be. According to border expert Louis DeVorsey, the decisive fact is not where surveyors meant to draw the line. It is where people have accepted the line to be over time.