There are remains of monumental cities, towers, and massive walls built more than 10,000 years ago; the traces of technological marvels that remain awe-inspiring today. This is where the story of Ancient Estimators, a video Web series written and produced by On Center Software, begins. It unearths the earliest evidence of construction estimating and building techniques. As the series unfolds, the evolution of estimating, measuring, building materials, design, and project planning are documented.

Archeological evidence shows early estimators had incredible knowledge of math, geometry, masonry, and project management. In 8000 BC, the city of Jericho emerged. This marked the end of the Stone Age, beginning of the Bronze Age, and the Dawn of the Brick. Bricks were a breakthrough technology, more important than the wheel, which wasn’t invented for 4,000 more years. Bricks were mass produced from clay in riverbeds, packed into molds and hardened in the sun for five to six weeks. Molds provided a standardized unit of measurement, which paved the way for calculating the quantities, drying time, and manpower needed to lay the bricks. Over time, bricks were improved by adding straw, husks, and ash to the clay. Next, kilns were used to bake the bricks, dramatically reducing production time.

In 3000 BC, the Sumerians invented cuneiform—a wedge-shaped script of several hundred characters, standard units of measurement and geometry. Cuneiform was used for everything from floor plans, to poetry, instruction, history, and law. Hammurabi’s Code, based on an eye for an eye, was written in cuneiform. There were 282 laws, one addressed the legal ramifications for builders of substandard structures that collapsed.

A fully intact Sumerian floor plan tablet dated to 2100 BC, resides in a museum in Manchester, England. Ironically, it is the size of modern day iPhone. The floor plan is of a residence or small temple with walls, stairs, and doorways drawn out. Measurements to scale, and quantities of materials are inscribed on the tablet. An On Center Software specialist imported a scanned image of the floor plan into digital takeoff software to verify the accuracy of the specs. The measurements are right on the money; with the same accuracy you find in digital plans today.

Clay tablets were eventually replaced by papyrus, and soon after, parchment. Blueprints were not invented until 1842, bluelines became the latest technology 100 years later, in 1942. Ironically, in the 21st century, some 50% of contractors are manually calculating takeoff and marking up revisions on scrolls of paper plans. Like the ancient Egyptians did on papyrus, they are very good at paper-based calculations, but most GCs and many of their competitors are light years ahead on construction software applications.

Fast forward to today, Advanced Estimators are using digital takeoff, estimating, and project tracking software. Revised digital plans are sent from the office to tablets at the jobsite. Photos taken with smartphones of issues are sent to the office, and others involved with the project, and linked to the drawings. Requests for price updates are emailed with a click. It’s not enough to simply review plans and specs, perform takeoffs, and assemble an estimate, bid, quote, and project budget. They are often an estimator and project manager throughout the build from pre-construction to final walk-through. Advanced Estimators use computers with multiple screens at the office and send revised PDFs of drawings and specs to team members’ tablets at the jobsite.

Are you an Advanced Estimator or Ancient Estimator? It’s your call.

But first watch it here.

Feel inspired? See a demo of On-Screen Takeoff, here.

Greg Michael is a communications specialist for On Center Software, with experience in publishing for major media, corporate communications, and project management for IT and energy companies. Michael has a BA in Communications from Rowan University and an MBA from the University of Dallas.