Will “Time-Travel” be the next development in Surveying?

Over the years, many tools have been developed to improve Surveying. Here are a few monumental advancements (from recent history):

1) The Gunter’s Chain.  Introduced in 1620 by English clergyman and mathematician Edmund Gunter (1581–1626), it consisted of 100 links. Each link measured 7.92 inches. The full chain measured 66′ and was the unit of measure for all Land Surveys in the United States and is still the published unit of measurement on all Public Land Surveys to this day.

2)  The EDM or Electronic Distance Meter. Developed in the late 1970’s. This technology improved the repeatability of a measurement by eliminating many of the variables that contribute to inaccuracies of steel tape measurements. Such variables include: temperature, uneven terrain, pull tension, and inexperienced operators.

3) The modern “Pin-Finder”. A.K.A.: metal detector. This invention revolutionized Surveying by allowing monuments to be set flush with the ground. This protects them from damage, but, makes them nearly impossible to find without a metal detector.

Those are my top three. I’m sure other Surveyors would have a different list. Even with these advancements most Surveyor’s still can’t agree with each other on the location of a property line.

An Engineer friend of mine frequently jokes: “If you hire 3 different Surveyor’s, you’ll get 4 different opinions on a given property line.” As with most jokes; there is an element of truth to that statement. So, why can’t Surveyor’s agree? The easy answer would be that some surveyors do a better job than others. However, the State legislature has empowered a Board of Registration for Engineers and Land Surveyors (the Board) to weed out incompetence in these professions. All practicing Land Surveyors in the state of Arkansas today are licensed by the Board. Potential Surveyors must complete a specified period of apprenticeship; must pass a series of examinations; and must meet certain educational requirements before being licensed by the Board. Once licensed, each Surveyor must complete continuing education courses in order to renew his/her license. In addition the Board has developed a set of minimum standards that all Surveyors are required to follow.  All these actions by the Board are designed to “protect the public welfare”, by insuring that all Surveyors perform at a certain level of competency. So, it would seem, we have ruled out the most obvious answer. Why then, can’t Surveyors agree?

To answer this question, we need a basic understanding of the profession of Surveying. A Surveyor’s duty is to locate, on the ground, an individual’s ownership interest in a piece of property. Ideally, this interest is wholly contained in the Legal Description. So, generally speaking, a Surveyor stakes-out the Legal Description provided by his client.  Now we are getting close to the problem. Legal Descriptions can be written by anyone using any means of measurement. Sometimes lines are measured with tapes and compasses. Sometimes they aren’t measured at all. Rarely are the methods of measurement specified in the Legal Description. A Surveyor’s ability to accurately and precisely map out a Legal Description won’t shed any light on the intentions of the original grantor of a tract of land. Only a Time-Machine can solve this problem.

When Surveyors can travel back to the point of conception for a tract of land, there will be no more confusion concerning the intentions of the original land owners. Only then will Surveyors be in total agreement. A modern Surveyor’s greatest need is not in measurements; but in understanding. What was the person who wrote the original Legal Description trying to convey? That is the question that each Surveyor seems to answer differently.

Time-Travel may be the only way to solve this problem. So, at least for now, Surveyors will continue to disagree with each other.