The Mapmakers of History: How Charting our World Became Essential for Civilization

The Mapmakers of History: How Charting our World Became Essential for Civilization

Is a perfect map possible? For those of us who frequently use our smartphones to find our way around with no wrong turns, the answer might seem like a resounding yes. And yet, map makers and experts contend that there is no such thing as a perfect map. One expert claims that all maps are—to some degree—subjective and that all civilizations in the past have heralded their maps as the correct one when really each one depicts a subjective view. And yet, companies like Google have set on a quest to develop “the perfect map,” using every available tool to approach this much-romanticized perfection. Through satellite imaging, drone images, hikers, and more, Google is attempting to create the perfect picture of our world. 

Over the centuries, human beings have engaged with the environment in an effort to better understand it and advance their societies. So here is the story of a few maps that changed the world. 

The Early Days of Maps and How It Altered Human History 

You may have heard someone say, “so-and-so has a good sense of direction.” Perhaps we recognize that some people are more apt in finding their way around than others. What is this about? Since the 1940s, some scientists have argued that humans have a kind of internal map or “black box” in the nervous system. While this may be true to some extent—we know how to get around our neighborhoods or familiar towns—drop someone in unknown territory and things can go south very quickly. 

Yet, humans used this intuition to begin interacting with the world and trying to document it. One of the oldest surviving maps was a clay tablet created around 700 to 500 B.C. in Mesopotamia. This early map was small and primordial, as it was more about giving people a sense of the surrounding worlds by placing Mesopotamia at the center. 

Early maps, in fact, were not overly concerned with accuracy. These early representations were more of a form of artistic expression or representing one’s fiefdom or kingdom. Some experts point to the early Roman maps, which seem to be more of a statement or showcase of their great empire than a document meant for navigation or understanding the land. 

The First Attempt at Accurate Mapping 

The first step towards accurate map-making was due to one man seeking to craft accurate horoscopes. One of the most often cited early maps was from Claudius Ptolemy, an astrologer and astronomer, who was preoccupied with horoscopes and somewhat inadvertently invented geography. 

Ptolemy did the leg work to collect documentation that detailed locations of towns and used stories from travelers to embellish his maps. He slowly developed what became a system of lines—latitude and longitude—and drew out almost 10,000 locations. He also knew that it was necessary to have a 2-dimensional map even knowing that the world was round.

Other Notable Maps of the Ancient World 

After Ptolemy’s creation of geography, other societies also attempted to depict the world around them in a way that made it possible to understand and engage with. Some of the early maps that changed civilization are detailed below. 

A world map in 1154

This early Arabic-language geography guide drew on Jewish, Greek, Christian, and Islamic traditions. According to the Atlantic, early Muslim mapmakers had a tradition to put the south on top. This early map depicted blue seas surrounding the globe and was more concerned with accuracy without embellishments, monsters, or overly artistic additions. 

A Christian representation 1300

Another early map shows how Christians in medieval Europe saw the world. This map used biblical time as the main running theme, with a depiction of Christ looking over the entire globe. In the map, towns and cities are depicted while also showcasing biblical moments and places such as the Garden of Eden, Pillar of Hercules, a crucifix, Jerusalem in the center, and a representation of Africa, embellished with monsters. 

Early navigation map

Many experts say that this map, created by Gerardus Mercator, is one of the treasures of early maps. He attempted to mimic the curvature of the earth’s surface on a 2-dimensional representation. The image of this map shows that it was created for European navigators. Experts discuss the artistry of this map, as it represents some political conflicts from a distance—as if to suggest the minuscule nature of man compared to the incredible vastness of the world around us. It was this type of subjective representation that makes early maps a majestic historical document that speaks volumes about society at that moment in time. 

Mercator map for early navigation in 1569
Notable Cartographers the Helped to Build the Mapping Tradition 

Early mapmakers had limited tools at their disposal but they managed with their early understanding of the cosmos, compasses, and zenith telescopes. Early cartographers then depend a lot on their imagination and their limited knowledge. 

Fra Mauro

Mauro was a 15th-century Camaldolese monk who had a cartography studio in Venice around 1450 AD. His map is often considered one of the most well-known and beautiful pieces of medieval cartography. 

Gerardus Mercator

Mercator’s map was mentioned above. In fact, Mercator may be a recognizable name to many. The Mercator map projection is named after this map maker. This was created as a navigational tool in the 1500s. It was Mercator’s attempt to accurately depict the Earth’s curvature and taking that into consideration for navigation that put his name on the historical roles of map-makers. 

Land Surveyors, The Modern Map-Makers Working to Map Our World 

The above is only scratching the surface of the amazing history of map-making and cartography. Today, we have amazing technology helping improve the process. Of course, maps and our interaction with them have changed considerably today. As Google attempts to find the “perfect map” land surveyors across the globe continue to do their job of measuring landmasses and establishing property lines, boundaries, etc. 

Do you need property demarcation or a land survey of your property? Want to learn more about what we do? Connect with us at Land-Mark Land Surveying today. 

The Search for Shackleton’s Ship: The Man, The Myth, & the Land Surveying Legend

The Search for Shackleton’s Ship: The Man, The Myth, & the Land Surveying Legend

The early days of exploration are filled with eccentric historical characters that took incredible risks to venture forth into the unknown. The drive to be part of geographical and scientific discovery led many to treacherous lands. Explorers from Marco Polo (who traveled along the Silk Road) to Christopher Columbus (credited with discovering the new world’) and Ferdinand Magellan (the first European to cross the Pacific Ocean), the age of exploration was one of the exciting discoveries that would change the course of history and people’s understanding of the earth, its landmasses, its oceans, and its natural landscapes. 

Through it all, these explorers took on the role of land surveyor, as they all made notes and observations of the lands and used early land surveying instruments to navigate and orient themselves. 

This month, we go back in time to explore the story of Ernest Schakelton, a somewhat controversial and misunderstood historical figure.

The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration and the Men That Searched for Answers 

During the late 19th century and early 20th century, Antarctica was (and continues to be to some extent) a mysterious muse that calls enticingly to the hearts of those with a dangerous proclivity for adventure and the unknown. During that time, Antarctica was a great mystery, one that promised a level of adventure to fulfill the innate drive of any curious explorer. The exploration of the “Tiera Incognita” was largely limited. 

In 1895, a Congress meeting in London declared the exploration of the Antarctic continent as “the greatest piece of geographical exploration still to be undertaken.” 

Ernest Shackleton, the Man 

Like many discovery expedition leaders of the time, Shackleton has accrued a certain amount of ‘street cred’ in the long list of fearless explorers. Before he set sail for the unknown, however, Shackleton was the son of a doctor born in Ireland. In his early teens, his family moved to London. Already harboring an innate call for adventure, young Shackleton would defy his father’s wishes of following in his footsteps and going to medical school for a chance to join the Royal Navy. He was only 16 when he joined and qualified as a master mariner in 1898. He traveled extensively with the Navy but had a secret love for the promise of exploring the Arctic, which was all the rage at the time. 

Ernest Shackleton, the Legend in the Making 

In 1901, young Ernest Shackleton got his first taste of polar exploration when he was chosen to go on the Arctic expedition led by the famous Robert Falcon Scott. They set sail on the ship ‘Discovery’ towards the South Pole and got closer than any other expedition had before. The ship traveled in harsh conditions and met severe resistance, but Shackleton became gravely ill and had to return home. 

About eight years after his first polar expedition, Shackleton returned to treacherous seas onboard the ship ‘Nimrod.’ On this voyage, his crew met some extraordinary circumstances, made some important discoveries, and climbed Mount Erebus. Upon his return to England, he was knighted. 

The Endurance Sets Sail 

In 1911, an expedition led by Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole. About a year later, another expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott also reached the South Pole, although without the knowledge that they had in fact been beaten by Amundsen’s party. Sadly, Falcon’s expedition perished on the return home. Amundsen’s expeditions, however, would bring back land survey data that would be useful to the scientific world including data that documented a great chain of mountains from Alaska to Patagonia. This ice barrier was believed to be a big obstacle to further Antarctic exploration. 

The Endurance Expedition was tasked with crossing the Antarctic continent from one end to the other through the South Pole. Despite the widespread news of Robert Falcon Scott’s tragic end in his expedition, volunteers jumped at the idea of sailing to those treacherous lands. The expedition was set to set sail as World War I was breaking out. Shackleton himself offered up his ship for the war cause but was told to proceed with the expedition. 

Once the Endurance set sail from a short stay in South Georgia where they collected provisions, the ship battled her way through thousands of miles of pack ice. 

A Ship Stuck in the Ice 

Then, the ice closed in around the ship. The ice around the ship gripped it tight and dragged it, drifting them further away from their intended course. The ship would be frozen in for the winter and one of two scenarios were likely to occur: 

  • The ice around the ship would melt in the Spring and set them free
  • The ice would continue to put pressure on the ship and crush it

Meanwhile on board, the crew played hockey and sports games on the ice, trying to make the best out of a dire situation. Eventually, the situation led Shackleton to conclude that the ship was lost and they must abandon it. This meant the crew was floating on ice with no hope of being rescued. 

The crew had to split up and Shackleton led a few men on a lifeboat to try and seek help at the nearest whaling station hundreds of miles away in South Georgia. It was a treacherous journey but the only hope. The men fought giant waves, cold weather, overcast skies (which hindered navigation) but they carried on. They managed. Once they made it to South Georgia, they had to cross mountains to reach the whaling station, another treacherous journey. They finally reached it and made their plea to go back and rescue the others. Shackleton did not give up on the remaining men and managed to get boats and help to go back and rescue half of his crew left behind. Not a single man of Shackleton’s 28-man crew was lost. 

The Adventurous Spirit and The Advancement of Land Surveying and Navigation

The spirit of discovery and understanding our planet is still very much part of land surveying all over the world. In Feb 2022, an expedition led by advanced technological land surveying and navigating equipment will attempt to locate and find Shackleton’s lost ship.
And while we’re not out exploring the South Pole, Land-Mark Land Surveyors continue the tradition of land surveying here in the Southwest. We survey land before it is used for residential or commercial purposes. Call us to learn more!

Land Surveying in Harsh Environments: Helping Map the Mysteries of Antarctica 

Land Surveying in Harsh Environments: Helping Map the Mysteries of Antarctica 

Human beings have done a lot of exploring since modern civilizations began and ships, automobiles, and airplanes allowed for the traversal across oceans and vast landmasses. There are still places out there, however, that remain to be fully understood.

Antarctica, the fifth-largest continent, with 5.4 million square miles, storage of the planet’s fresh water supply, and a variety of penguins, polar bears, and other animal life is still largely a mystery. Land surveyors, among others, are part of the group of people that have helped understand this amazing landmass little by little. 

How do land surveyors work in such harsh environments? What is their role in the slow uncovering of Antarctica’s secrets? 

Let’s survey some of the details.

Land Surveyors as Outdoor Explorers — How We Map Harsh Terrain 

While many jobs adjusted to the covid pandemic and switched to remote or work-from-home models, land surveyors were doing anything but. Their job cannot be done remotely, nor can it be neglected or left to chance. Precision is everything in land surveying, as it contributes to the mapping and understanding of the landscape while being essential to the building of infrastructure. The United States Antarctic Program (USAP) is a government-sponsored program that represents the country in the region. The program strives to encourage international cooperation, maintain a presence in the region, and conduct quality science research there. 

Well-known land surveyor Jeffrey Scannielo is part of a team that works in the Antarctic region. McMurdo Station is the U.S. station in Antarctica and is at the tip of Ross Island about 2, 415 miles south of Christchurch, New Zealand. Most of the field research and activities go through this station. Scannielo— a licensed surveyor in the state of Colorado— was working doing land surveying to help build runways for McMurdo. The runways are essential for planes landing and scientists, biologists, and other researchers to come in.

Scannielo explains part of his mission was monitoring the sea ice conditions for aircraft/vehicle safety. He had to do this in temperatures that raked below -62 F with wind chill. That’s a brisk day at the office! He explains how modern technology has helped land surveyors in dealing with the job in harsh environments such as this. Current GPS receivers, for example, have increased field productivity.  The equipment today is efficient, stable, and resilient, which helps when you’re dealing with icy conditions. 

Land Surveyors in Antarctica — Just Another Day at the Office

When land surveyors work in the United States, there are a series of tools that allow them to predict the conditions on the ground. That is, accurate weather reports and forecasts can tell a surveyor a lot about the kind of landscape they’re going into. That’s not the case in Antarctica. Land surveyor David Scott realized this when working in the region. He recounts how doing work down there always has some uncertainty, as you never know what kind of conditions you will run into. 

Part of his job was also to survey the land to help airplanes land in the area. The issue is the runways in Antarctica are always shifting because of winds and weather conditions. Every year, surveyors have to measure longitudes and latitudes in extreme weather including high winds and low temperatures. Land surveyors have a great responsibility on their shoulders to maintain their equipment and avoid losing precision.

Runways and airfields are important in the Arctic region because harsh weather makes landing difficult. So airplanes have to use instruments to know where the runway is in order to land safely, and to do that, they need accurate measurements of latitude and longitude. 

Survey Instruments in Harsh Weather

Land surveying is not only difficult on the land surveyor but also on the equipment needed to make accurate measurements. In early expeditions to extreme weather, telescopes and compasses were covered in leather to protect them. The knobs on the early theodolites were also wrapped in leather to shield them from the cold. Thanks to advancements in this field, the equipment built today are far more durable and withstands a lot more harsh weather, helping the crew get the job done. Data collection has also become easier thanks to some of the instruments, which ensures that no data is lost. 

Land Surveyors in the El Paso and Southwest Regions

While we haven’t made our way to Antarctica quite yet, we are here to serve the Southwest region in providing accurate land surveying services. Whether you’re looking to build something on your property, working with government contractors on infrastructure, or building a commercial facility, we have the team, the expertise, and the equipment to do the job.  

Want to learn more about our land surveying services? Contact us today

The Artillery Surveyor: The Amazing Role of Land Surveying in World War II


Squad of soldiers on historical reconstruction of the Second World War.

The conflict that tore through the mid 20th century happened on all multiple fronts, involving dozens of nations, territories, armies, and affecting millions of people across the world. The casualties of the war do not begin to tell the story of its effects. And yet, it was during the war efforts that nations like the United States rose to the occasion and produced great technological achievements while deploying high-level skill, craft, and expertise. The war was not just about the soldiers on the frontlines. It was about using all skills to win the war. 

So what does this have to do with land surveyors? These guys played an important role in very specific frontline maneuvers. 

Land Surveyors in the War Effort

An example of one of these battalions was the 16th  Field  Artillery Observation  (FAOB) Battalion. These units were not exactly making the headlines or making the front page of the newspaper, but they were quietly playing a very important role. 

Their mission was a technical one.

They were to determine the range of sound and flash in order to produce adequate counter-battery fire. These were also termed observation battalions, as most of their jobs consisted of observing and notating, then putting that information to work. There was a survey officer, which was the center of the surveying expertise of the battalion. 

Where Did These Units Come From? 

The officers of these units were experts in their field. The surveying experience was drawn from the Coast and Geodetic Survey, which were detailed for this task for the duration of the war during World War II. The C&GS was composed of military engineers and civilians with varying degrees of expertise in surveying, seafloor and airways charting, mapping coastlines, oceanography, and geophysics.  These were expert surveyors with plenty of experience, although not necessarily in the frontline of the battle.

Most of the men in the C&GS were hardened military engineers that were used to years out in field missions attached to survey vessels. Their lifestyle was characterized by going out on a mission of mapping or surveying land that lasted for days to months to years. As the war broke out, these guys were transferred to the Navy, Army, or the Marine Corps. 

What Was the Mission? 

So what were these guys responsible for? To put it simply, identifying and mapping enemy fire. As these teams located the enemy fire points, they could direct counterfire. 

As the American Surveyor chronicles, the ultimate goal was to tie all artillery weapons and observation systems onto a common grid to direct the “putting iron on target.” This process was highly technical and skilled in an endeavor termed Time on Target (ToT) and was grounded on the survey work performed by the surveyors. 

American artillery efforts were a major force in the advancement of the infantry in all theaters of war. The ability to identify and target enemy fire was a factor in American supremacy as they advanced in both the European and Pacific theaters. 

The Central Requirements for Successful Survey of Enemy Fire

The three basic requirements needed to accomplish this intricate game of precision:

  • The precise location of the home team’s gun placements 
  • The precise identification of the target’s (enemy fire) location
  • The ability to determine the azimuth of the target

This was the realm of the artillery surveyor. The azimuth in land surveying is at the center of surveying methods. It is a horizontal angle of the line when the zero is at astronomic north. The angles are measured clockwise and provide the precision needed to identify a location and strike with efficiency.

Artillery Surveyor Showing Bravery Under Fire

So while we don’t often hear of these missions that played a pivotal role in the advancement of artillery and the success in the frontlines, their accomplishments have been well recorded in the history books. One of the most famous of these surveyors was an officer called David Whipp. He was awarded the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, and the French Croix de Guerre. 

While assisting the infantry in the African theater, Whipp led the survey control of artillery attack across dangerous terrain and in ‘disregard for his own safety.’ He accomplished survey control of the area quickly and despite being under heavy enemy fire. 

His mission was to identify and establish survey control of an observation post. Whipp set up the surveying instruments and equipment while under fire. During this, he observed enemy fire and although not trained in artillery himself, was able to call in the points to Corps Artillery fire direction center by radio and direct fire to the enemy battery. 

Whipps’ unit saw plenty of frontline action. It was recorded that the First Field Artillery Observation Battalion saw more combat than almost any other unit in the War. This meant over 900 days on the lines. Whipp went on to fight in Sicily and some of his letters home are recorded in the historical record. His letters reveal a man of profound intelligence and a soldier at heart. Some of his letters provide great insight into the role of the artillery surveyor and how they were the first ones out on the land when preparing for an attack.

A soldier and a surveyor, fighting with heart, grit, and love of the land. 

Land Surveying as an Essential Tool Then and Now

The need for precise land surveying is needed just as much today. 

Here at home, Land-Mark Land Surveying is part of the team that works on numerous projects and we take our responsibility very seriously. Lucky for us, we’re not under fire that often!

Want to learn more about what we do and how we could get your project off the ground? Call Land-Mark today. 

Land and Stars: The Zenith Telescope & Other Land Surveying Instruments 


Survey by theodolite concept. Civil Engineer Checking Surveyor Equipment Tacheometer or theodolite outdoors at construction site on the road.Most people that use GPS technology for long drives and family vacations might not think twice about latitude and longitude. Early explorers and navigators had a very different experience when it came to venturing into unknown lands and oceans. And even though we don’t think about it, GPS depends on geodetic coordinates or latitude and longitude. For generations,  people have depended on coordinates to travel and navigate the world. The tools and instruments of navigation are not that different from those used for land surveying. 

So let’s explore some of these amazing tools that have improved the way we understand our world. 

The Mystery of Longitude and How it Was Solved

Latitude runs parallel to the equator and is, therefore, easier to determine. It is determined by nature, whereas longitude proved to be a far more difficult problem to solve. Determining how far east or west a ship was from the land was a challenging endeavor and led to some fascinating maritime history. The difficulty in longitude made travel by ocean and sea very perilous and sometimes costly to merchants, explorers, and sailors. 

In a well-known story that happened in the Scilly Isles in southern England, massive wreckage led the British government to offer a big cash prize for anybody that could solve the longitude problem. This was known as the famed Longitude Act of 1714. The wreck at Scilly Isles had caused a lot of damage and had been one of many shipwrecks that had destroyed property, goods, and human lives. 

The problem of longitude came down to maintaining consistent time at an agreed-upon zero-meridian. Sailors would have to set the ship’s clock at exactly 12 when the sun was directly overhead, but clocks could not withstand the motion and changes of the sea. So sailors knew that an hour meant 15 longitudinal degrees of separation so they could convert the hour into a geographical measurement. And yet, it kept failing, as establishing precise time and keeping time was difficult on the ships. 

This problem was solved by one unschooled fella named John Harrison, who invented an oil-free clock and would carry true-time across any turbulent sea. Harrison was recognized for his genius and his clocks were mass-produced, helping ships calculate longitude accurately and arrive safely at their destination. He is central to British maritime history. 

The Zenith Telescope and Geographical Measurements

A zenith telescope has an amazing little story and forms an important part of the study of the skies. It is a refracting telescope that is designed to observe the stars overhead. As early as the 1700s, scientists and sky enthusiasts were looking for ways to better understand and measure the earth’s movement. In 1725, the aberration of starlight was discovered using one of these telescopes. It measures differences in zenith angles which helps to determine latitude location. 

Zenith telescopes were also made portable, and this meant they could be used for geodetic purposes. A man by John Bird living in London was responsible for the first zenith telescope used in America. 

The U.S. Corps of Engineers 

During the 19th century, groups like the U.S. Corps of Engineers created a powerhouse of innovation in various areas of construction and land development. The field of surveying grew and so did the surveyor’s toolbox. 

Captain Andrew Talcott of the U.S. Corps of Engineers continued to develop the methods of using zenith scopes to determine latitude. While working on the state boundary between Michigan and Ohio, he used a slightly different method. Earlier surveyors had paid attention to only the stars that passed about one degree or less of the zenith. Talcott focused on pairs of stars that moved through in equal distances. The method of measuring the zenith distance and finding the latitude is called the Talcott method. 

The zenith telescope was used to demarcate state borders as newer states were being formed and new boundaries were decided upon. 

The Surveyor’s Compass 

A surveyor’s compass is unique from other compasses because it has vertical sights for aiming at distant objects. The surveyor’s compass came along in places with vast land exploration and was first referenced in Art of Surveying (London, 1610). These are vernier compasses with a variation arc and vernier mechanism. An Improved Surveyor’s Compass could measure horizontal angles without referencing magnetic north. This newly patented version of the compass helped many early railroad engineers improve their building process. 

Get Accurate Land Surveys With Experienced Surveyors in El Paso 

Whether it’s for a new home, a commercial property, a larger structure, or a building, a land survey is a must. Accuracy is our motto. Customer service is always our driving force. Land-Mark land surveyors are here to serve the community of El Paso and beyond. How can we help? 

Land-Mark Professional Surveying provides the southwest with land surveying services. Connect with us today and find out more. 


How Land Surveying Influenced One of America’s Favorite Poet & Essayists


A stamp with Henry David Thoreau

Many prominent people have gotten their start or dabbled in the art of land surveying. As we’ve covered in previous posts, well-known American figures have connected with the land through the art of land surveying. The work is ideal for those who see the beauty of the natural world. During the mid 19th century, America produced many memorable poets and writers that were essential in articulating and refining the American ethos and the philosophies of the New World. One name that is synonymous with harmonious living in the natural world — particularly as technology and cities began to grow— was Henry David Thoreau, known as an American environmental writer and essayist. When he wasn’t philosophizing and thinking profoundly about man’s relationship to nature, Thoreau was working as a land surveyor. 

The Mark of Land Surveying on the Life of a Profound Thinker

Classical education in American history will likely come across the likes of Massachusetts native Henry David Thoreau and his work. With such well-composed life advice and profound thinking, Thoreau was known for his thoughts on capitalism, nature, and the individual. The son of a pencil factory owner, Thoreau became an apprentice to Ralph Walde Emerson—another big name in American literature. This meant that young Thoreau would be heavily steeped in the Transcendental tradition of his mentor. For the Transcendentalist, the way to a meaningful life was in the ability to hold oneself or maintain one’s separation from the material world and material wealth. This was an American delineation of the British Romantics, who saw the natural world as the arbiter towards spiritual transcendence and peace.  Emerson wrote, “Mind is the only reality, of which all other natures are better or worse reflectors. Nature, literature, history, are only subjective phenomena.” This type of transcendentalist thinking was to inform much of Thoreau’s work, although he would depart from heavily discounting the power of nature on individual development. On the contrary, Thoreau put a lot more significance on nature and its presence in our lives. 

Perhaps a little less known fact about the famous writer was that he was also a strong-minded abolitionist who participated in the Underground Railroad and railed heavily against slavery. During this time as a conductor at the Underground Railroad, he helped several slaves escape to Canada. 

A Young Land Surveyor Uses Surveying to Inform His Work 

As Thoreau worked parceling land that would be sold off to loggers. He used land surveying as his day job and dedicated himself to writing on his time off. He became Concord’s head surveyor in 1851. A close look at land surveying of the 19th century reveals that there were no licensing requirements to do the work. So land surveyors relied heavily on recommendations and their past work to vouch for them. Thorough was a man known in the surveying community as a man of integrity and this fared well for his ability to continue getting work. 

The US Coast Survey formed in 1807 was important for the young land surveyor. The survey was conducted under the public spotlight and brought questions to the forefront about the role of science in democracy. These early surveys often had a significant impact on the shaping of society and people’s understanding of private property in the early days of the nation. 

Land Surveying in the Mid 19th Century

The century has many important people working as land surveyors, but the work itself — done across the country — would help shape so much of America today. One of the most famous texts was the 18th-century treatise called “The Complete Surveyor or the Whole Art of Surveying Land.” This book was influential for other early surveyors including George Washington and Henry David Thoreau. The process of land surveying looked a little like this:

  • The selling or distribution of the land to a prospective owner 
  • A prospective landowner would obtain a warrant 
  • A surveyor would go out to the location with the prospective owner 
  • They would mark out and demarcate the property line
  • The surveyor would prepare a plat or special map of the boundaries 
  • The surveyor would include a textual description
  • This document would serve as the deed to the land 

The Long Tradition of Land Surveying in America 

These figures have included the first president of the United States, George Washington, and founding father Thomas Jefferson. We have also covered the Lewis and Clarke expedition that gave way to a better understanding of the American Western frontier. The Lewis and Clarke expedition helped the American expansion efforts. In Europe at this time, land surveying would use a lot of transits, theodolites, and star charts, early surveying in the colonies used a different method that involved a long Gunter’s Chain to measure and demarcate the property. Most of the land surveyed east of the Ohio River was done using this method.

Land Surveying You Can Trust in the El Paso Area 

Here at Land-Mark, we continue the great tradition of land surveying. The great predecessors of the industry have left behind great lessons of land surveying and much of their history. 

As one of the Southwest’s most dependable land surveying firms, we are ready to help you survey your land with accuracy and reliability. Call us today and find out more about what we do.

America’s Most Famous Land Surveyors: The Journey of Lewis and Clark (Part II)

America’s Most Famous Land Surveyors: The Journey of Lewis and Clark (Part II)

Surveying and map-making began as a treacherous and rather dangerous enterprise. It wasn’t for the faint of heart. Lewis and Clark were one of history’s most important land surveyors. They and their crew would be responsible for changing the course and expansion of America. In our last post, we explored the background of Lewis and Clark and some of the surveying tools that they would take on their journey. Today we continue our remembrance of this historic expedition and the surveying marvels that were born from this trek across unknown lands. 

Two Surveyors, a Guide, & Thousands of Miles

In addition to their early surveyor tools like compasses, quadrants, telescopes, and chronometers, Lewis and Clark also gathered other necessary equipment. Some of these included weapons and ammunition, medical supplies and medicines, books on botany, geography, and astronomy, maps, as well as gifts to present to Native Americans they knew they’d run into including beads, face paint, ivory combs, and more.

The duo recruited 45 brave souls to join them on their way westward. Among these were 27 unmarried men, a French-Indian interpreter, a boat crew, and Clark’s slave known as York. One other unique characteristic about the Corps was the fact that it was a rather eclectic and diverse bunch. In addition to the Southern roots of Lewis and Clark, there was his slave, a one-eyed-part-French-part-Omaha-Indian fiddler player, a German named John Potts, and the famous Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian. 

Both Lewis and Clark knew the journey would require incredible tenacity and discipline and so they ran a tight ship.’ Historical accounts describe how the corps was led with an iron fist, including harsh punishments like bareback lashing and hard labor for dissidents or uncooperative members of the team. It is the ultimate adventure story, only one person of the crew would die during the journey—a 22-year-old who died of an abdominal infection. 

The team headed northwest along the Missouri River. Thomas Jefferson tasked them with several missions and goals for the expedition. These included finding and mapping a route across the continent, making detailed observations and notes regarding the natural geography, landscapes, and natural resources out West. At the same time, the team was meant to establish good relationships with native peoples along the way to interrupt the British dominance of the fur trade in the areas. 

By mid-October, the expedition had reached the Mandan villages on the Missouri River. This important trading place allowed them to make some connections and talk to others about possible routes westward. The team had moved to South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana. From the Mandan Villages, the crew was now facing the Rocky Mountains, the highest mountain range. One famous story was of Merriweather Lewis falling 20 feet into a cavern, was poisoned, and then shot in the thigh. 

The now-famous Sacajawea, the wife of one of the Frenchmen in the expedition, proved to be invaluable for the success of the journey, as her language skills and knowledge of the territory proved essential. By the winter of 1805, they had reached the Columbia River and made a transcontinental crossing north of Mexico. 

By the end, the expedition has traveled about 8,000 miles while pushing, pulling, and hauling ‘the boat’, the famous keelboat of the Corps, facing harsh storms, weather, hunger, thirst, and one or two run-ins with bears, friendly and not-so-friendly Indians, exhaustion, sleeplessness, mosquitoes, venereal disease, dysentery, boils, ticks, injuries, and God knows what else. The crew also found themselves face-to-face with some elk, buffalo, and deer, which they kindly turned into campfire dinners. 

Throughout the trek, many of the men kept detailed journals, which would serve them well, as many of the maps and drawings they tried to send back to Jefferson during their journey never made it through. Finally, the crew made it to the West Coast, moving through northern Montana, Oregon, and present-day Washington onto Ft. Clatsop. 

The Land Surveyors Return Home to a Hero’s Welcome 

When Merriweather Lewis and William Clark returned to St. Louis with their crew, they were celebrated as pioneers and heroes of the time. The crew arrived back in St. Louis in September. The Corps of Discovery go their own way, but Lewis is named governor of the Louisiana Territory, while Clark becomes an Indian agent for the West. Most of the intended goals of the journey were met. This included establishing diplomatic relationships with Native Americans. The crew held councils with Indians and participated in events with them. Upon his return, Lewis had identified 178 plants including bitterroot, prairie sagebrush, Douglas fir, and ponderosa pine. They had also identified 122  animals such as grizzly bears, prairie dogs, and pronghorn antelope. 

A Tradition of Land Surveying Continues With Unprecedented Precision 

Lewis and Clark’s journey is seen differently among historians. For many, the journey was one of the first tales of American exceptionalism and would spearhead a movement of westward expansion and discovery. Others focus on the tragedies that plagued the journey. In the end, the expedition’s contributions to early maps of American territory are indisputable. The flourishing country understood its terrain and natural resources much more in-depth than it did before 1804. 

As land surveyors, we can only admire the skill and technical understanding of Lewis and Clark in their creation of maps. Their understanding of geography, astronomy, and climate, allowed them to make extraordinary conclusions that turned out to be quite accurate. 

While the process is much different today, here at Land-Mark Land Surveying, we move forward with creating detailed and accurate land surveys for construction, government contracts, and more. Connect with us to find out more!

The Amazing Story of Lewis & Clark: America’s Most Famous Land Surveyors (Part I) 


two male surveyors working at mining site

You are given a hand compass and told to go off into this unknown territory and come back with a map and detailed drawings of the land. No GPS. No smartphone. No calls to mom. No helicopter to rescue you. It would be quite the feat! Many people today are used to the convenience and accuracy of GPS for navigation. If you drive into a new city, you likely use navigation tools to find the nearest burger place, hotel, or shopping center. 

It wasn’t always like that. In fact, going into the unknown was part of this country’s early history. Somebody had to do it. That person (among others, of course) was Meriwether Lewis and William Clark when they set off West to map the unknown lands beyond the Mississippi River. This incredible history shows just how vast and expansive the United States was and is an inspiring real story of the American spirit on a tumultuous journey. 

In past posts, we’ve explored the incredible technology that is changing and enhancing the work of land surveyors across the world. From drones to GPS to smart technology, mapping our world has improved through the implementation of these tools. We thought we’d go back in time to a story that had none of those technologies and surveyed over 8,000 miles with not much more than a pen, paper, and a whole lot of grit. 

It Begins With the Son of a Surveyor and a Notable Name in American History 

For most people, Thomas Jefferson is the name behind the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States of America.  He is known as one of the most notable founding fathers who wrote and spoke eloquently about the role of government, led the revolutionary cause, and worked for the republic moving forward. A little unknown fact about Jefferson is that he was a son of a land surveyor and a land surveyor himself.  He was exposed to the world of mapping and charting as a young boy and for a time considered pursuing this as his profession. Because of his exposure to the line of work, Jefferson understood the importance and necessity of having accurate maps and surveys of one’s country. He knew that a new nation attempting to build itself could not do without the knowledge of its own lands. 

As president, Jefferson emphasized the importance of the landowner and the central role they played in building the country. All of this fueled his ambitions for discovery and exploration, as well as an understanding of what lay beyond the recent territories the country had just acquired. 

The Louisiana Purchase obtained after a negotiation had added 827,000 square miles to the United States. This was a lot of unexplored territories. Jefferson was already calling for it to be surveyed. He appointed his secretary, Meriwether Lewis, a known surveyor as well, to lead the expedition. Lewis would choose his friend William Clark and together they would put together a team that would change American history and set an example for pioneers everywhere. 

The Two Men That Would Spearhead the Corps of Discovery 

Like many early pioneers, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis were men of their era: smart, with a drive for adventure, and a relentless spirit. Lewis went to college in his home state of Virginia and graduated in 1793, no small feat at the time. He joined the Virginia state militia and took part in putting a stop to the Whiskey Rebellion. He would go on to become captain of the U.S Army, and at the ripe age of 27, he became a personal secretary to the President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. 

William Clark joined the state militia of Kentucky when he was nineteen and would go on to serve in the regular Army. He served with his future partner Lewis and would be commanded by George Washington himself as a lieutenant of infantry. 

Survey Instruments Used For the Treacherous Expedition

It might be interesting to note that Thomas Jefferson taught Lewis the basic principles of determining latitude by observing altitudes of the sun or a star with an octant. Both Lewis and Clark understood that this was not a journey to take lightly. Both prepared adequately for the journey Jefferson also sent him for formal education and once appointed to head the expedition, Lewis began studying medicine, botany, astronomy, and zoology. He would study and analyze existing maps and journals. Some of the surveying tools they had at the time included:

  • Compass
  • Quadrants
  • Telescopes
  • Sextants
  • Chronometer
  • Tape measure
  • Thermometers 
  • Plotting instruments

Soon, this dynamic duo would set out for the unexplored wildlands of the West. In Part II, we’ll explore their journey, what they ran into, and what they found after miles and miles of exploration, map-making, surveying, and endless adventure. 

Here at Land-Mark professional surveying, we have slightly more sophisticated equipment than Lewis and Clark, but we see every job as an adventure. For a professional land survey, contact Land-Mark today. 

Land Surveying in the Age of Coronavirus and New Technologies 


Inside of the Commercial / Industrial Building Construction Site: Professional Engineer Surveyor Takes Measures with Theodolite, Using Digital Tablet Computer. In the Background Skyscraper Formwork Frames and CraneMuch of the world hit the pause button in the middle of March up to May and even continuing on into the summer of 2020. It has been a strange year for everyone worldwide but despite the many changes and shifts, land surveyors have continued to do their jobs in mapping out our world. As it turns out, surveying land is a pretty essential endeavor and one that we may not realize impacts our lives pretty significantly. The last few decades have had a considerable effect on land surveying, as technologies have improved and embedded themselves in the process. We thought we’d take a look at some of the changes in the industry in the past couple of years and how we have coped with the changes of the virus. 

The Close Call — Keeping Land Surveyors Working Through the Pandemic

Across the country, governors made moves to protect their populations by shutting down what they considered ‘non-essential’ businesses. This led to a lot of other businesses to question the metric of ‘essential.’ Who, after all, decides what is essential and what is not in American life. Surveyors across the country began to make a case for their services as quite essential. 

President Trump issued two national emergency declarations under the Stafford Act and the National Emergencies Act. Several players petitioned to keep surveying operations open and exempt from the governor’s orders. The letter making this case was shared with other parties including the National Society of Professional Surveyors, which encouraged surveyors all across the country to send to their governors preemptively to prevent shutdowns of surveying operations. While some governors exempted surveyors by name, others did not consider our work particularly necessary. Many appealed this by showing how surveyors are actually critical to the economic well-being of the state. The reason being that many government construction or private construction, building permits, or other infrastructure cannot proceed without a survey. 

According to many surveyors across the country, some private-sector jobs have been put on hold by the pandemic but many public sector jobs have increased. This might be because localities and other entities are taking advantage of the reduced traffic and crowds to work on important city projects.

At the same time, land surveyors are not exactly working amidst large crowds. Our profession is pretty isolated and doesn’t require large teams or working in highly trafficked areas. All of our work can easily be done with social distancing and by taking precautions. Here at Land-Mark, we continue to do our important work while ensuring that all of our workers and any member of the public we might come across, is protected. 

Another aspect of our industry that has changed considerably has been the use of new technologies. These, of course, have been in the works for many years at this point. We’ve written about how GPS technology specifically has altered our industry, but technology has impacted us in several ways:

Accuracy: Modern instruments allow land surveyors to have an accuracy of measurements. Compared to the tools in use even a decade ago, the accuracy has improved exponentially. 

Speed: Today, the speed of the surveying process has also greatly been improved by technology. Accurate results can be presented in a few hours, allowing for projects and infrastructure to get rolling. With the use of drones, for example, areas can be surveyed without exceeding human effort. 

Improved possibilities: Development really begins with the land surveys and thanks to the improvement of technology, we are able to create surveys that create even more building possibilities. A lot of cities that are approaching development in a smarter, high-tech way, is a result of improved results in the land surveying arena. 

As cities grow, there might be limited space available and large metropolitan areas have to get creative about the way they develop some of these areas. Cities often have to perform complex planning in small and complicated areas. Land surveying is imperative when looking to make the most out of space. 

As we look to the uncertain future, we know that land surveying will continue to improve as technology improves. Automation and artificial intelligence will surely trickle into the industry, as they have already begun to do so. The use of drones, for example, has become useful in surveying difficult terrain. Other features like cloud-based storage and instant data seem to be right on the horizon. 

Get Accurate Land Surveys for Your Project

Whether you are involved in a private contract, government contract, or public sector infrastructure project, Land-Mark Land Surveying is here to provide the quality land survey you need. Get the right view of the land and proceed with confidence. 

A Land Surveyor’s Tool Kit: What We Use in The Field


A young surveyor takes measurements on the road while the sun rises in the morning

As land surveyors, we have to carry around a great deal of equipment. We’re often mistaken for photographers because of our tripods, but the rest of our gear quickly dispels that thought. We deal with precise measurements, so it’s crucial to have the right tools on hand. Here we’d like to teach more about our equipment, so you can see us and not mistake us for dedicated Instagram photographers.

  1. Theodolite –  A theodolite is a surveying instrument with a telescope for measuring horizontal and vertical angles. Some land surveying crews use transits and total stations as well, which are used for the same purpose. These can be very pricey; they can range from $200 to over $50,000 in retail price!
  2. Surveying Tripod – Be sure not to spend all your money on the theodolite, because it needs a place to sit as well. The survey tripod is a sturdy tripod that is designed to move as little as possible for accurate measurements.
  3. Hand Tools – Besides the main equipment, a surveyor will need a host of other equipment to do the job well. Rope and measuring tape are great for rough measurements and marking, while items like picks and saws help clear debris to properly survey. 
  4. Clipboard – All the data needs to go somewhere, right? A clipboard and pencil are necessary to take measurements or notes down onto paper, or a good PDA would suffice as well.

Land Surveying Done Right

If you’re in need of a land survey, Land-Mark Professional Surveying is the best in the southwest. We work in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and provide quality land surveying for all of our clients. Contact us to see what we can do for you! 

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