How Those Bad*ss Babylonians Did Design, B.C. (“Before CAD”)


They had neither MicroStation, Revit or AutoCAD, nor any modern means of surveying the land. Hell, they didn’t even have electricity.

The 4,000-year-old Babylonian clay tablet known as Si 427, depicting a piece of land, including details and dimensions.

As if discovering an intact 4,000-year-old clay tablet wasn’t enough excitement for a day, as if the information recorded on it wasn’t mind-blowing enough, there was one more almost incomprehensible surprise to Si. 427: the tablet contained Pythagorean principles of trigonometry — Pythagorean triples, to be precise — a thousand years before Pythagoras ever lived. We reckon those Babylonians were possibly way more bad*ass than history has given them credit for. (We doubt, 4,000 years from now, that any data will be retrievable from a modern tablet by future archaeologists, yet the humble clay revealed its secrets. Remarkable.)

CAD initially emerged as a way to simplify automotive and aerospace designs.

Design, Post Mesopotamia

Australian mathematician, Dr. Daniel Mansfield, with 4,000-year old clay tablet, Si. 427.

Dapper Dan

In front of the bathroom mirror, you plop a dab of pomade into your hair and comb it into a laser-sharp part with glossy waves that would be the envy of Cary Grant. Sock garters are still a thing, so you’ll be wearing those. Next, slip into that crisply starched and ironed white shirt and your favorite cufflinks. Your suits are fashionably baggy, but appropriate for office wear in limited shades of gray, brown, beige, and navy, or some variation thereof. Nothing too flashy. A pocket kerchief, skinny tie, mirror-shined lace-up shoes, your weekday hat and your satchel-style briefcase complete your ensemble.

Can you imagine the inconvenience of lugging stone tablets to a meeting with the builders?

Lying Down on the Job

There was a time when lying down on the job was actually part of the job.

The New Babylonians: Hanratty & Sutherland, CAD Pioneers

For centuries, engineering meant getting out paper and laboriously drawing plans and designs by hand, as detailed in the work of Leonardo da Vinci in the 1400s.

The birth of CAD can perhaps be traced back to 1957, when Dr. Patrick J. Hanratty, a PhD from the University of California, Irvine, developed PRONTO while working for General Electric. PRONTO was the first commercial numerical control programming system.

In wedge-shaped cuneiform and an accurate line drawing, the ancient tablet outlines details and dimensions of the property.

GIS pinning location on map
Before CAD: Da Vinci’s map of the city of Imola, pen and ink, 1502.

Free Time is Me Time

Although modern CAD/BIM software is much faster than its predecessors, most platforms still have their quirks and those quirks can chew up your time and force you to work late. If you’re a MicroStation, Revit or AutoCAD user, you know exactly what we’re taking about.

You don’t have to get your hands muddy, lug around a clay tablet, or pomade your hair, wear a necktie and crawl around on a drawing table these days, but there are still ways to speed up your process significantly and free up time for the things you truly care about.

The tablet contained Pythagorean principles of trigonometry — Pythagorean triples, to be precise — a thousand years before Pythagoras ever lived.