Encyclopedic Entry

Marble from the quarries of Carrara, Italy, can be found in the Marble Arch, London; Manila Cathedral, Philippines; and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, United Arab Emirates.

Photograph by Karl Henrik Nymo, MyShot

Stonehenge
Nearly 5,000 years after prehistoric engineers built the mysterious circle in the south of England, the rocks that make up Stonehenge continue to fascinate people around the world.

Scientists have determined that the largest of Stonehenge's sandstone blocks, each weighing about 25 tons, were hauled 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from where they were quarried. The structure's smaller stones, called bluestones, were hauled from a quarry 233 kilometers (145 miles) away, in modern-day Wales. Ancient workers transported the bluestones from quarry to Stonehenge by dragging, carrying, and floating them on rafts.

Miami Mine
The largest quarry in the United States is in Miami, Florida. It is owned by the Rinker Materials Corporation. The limestone quarry, which includes a cement plant, supplies building materials to engineers all over the world.

A quarry is a place where rocks, sand, or minerals are extracted from the surface of the Earth. A quarry is a type of mine called an open-pit mine, because it is open to the Earth's surface. Another type of mine, a sub-surface mine, consists of underground tunnels or shafts.

The most common purpose of quarries is to extract stone for building materials. Quarries have been used for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramids with massive limestone and granite blocks cut by hand from nearby quarries. Each of these blocks weighs many tons. In ancient Rome, slaves and criminals were often forced to do the extremely difficult work of cutting stones in marble, granite, and limestone quarries.

Quarrying History

Methods of extracting stone and other materials from quarries have changed since the first quarries were mined in the Aswan area of Egypt. The earliest quarries were mined with hammers, picks, and chisels made of stone or metals such as bronze and iron.

Even communities that did not have stone buildings created quarries. The Lakota culture of the Midwest region of the U.S. and Canada did not quarry stone to build monuments or houses. At a site in Pipestone National Monument, in the U.S. state of Minnesota, they quarried for stones to make calumets, or ceremonial smoking pipes. Calumets, made of a type of metamorphic rock called catlinite or pipestone, were important for creating lasting treaties, or agreements between groups of people.

Quarrying material for use in building materials was much more work. Stones had to be carried or dragged out of quarries manually. Stones could also be hauled with pulley systems involving ropes and moveable wooden tracks or sleds. This process often involved thousands of slaves and other workers.

On Easter Island, for example, almost the entire community had to be involved in the quarrying, carving, and transportation of statues. The rock for these statues, called moai, was hauled all over the island from one quarry. The heaviest moai weighs 86 tons. Scientists are still studying how these ancient Polynesian people transported their quarried rock.

Today, people use mechanical tools to mine quarries, including drilling equipment, blasting equipment, and hauling equipment. Industrial drills with diamond tips are used to cut into hard rock. Some miners use explosives to blast away unwanted material to access the desired rock. Finally, materials are hauled away by enormous mining trucks. Some mining trucks can carry more than 350 tons of material.

Dimension Stones and Aggregate

Different types of stones are mined for different purposes. The two most common types of quarry material are dimension stones and aggregate.


Large, precisely cut stones excavated from a quarry are called dimension stones. Dimension stones are used for constructing buildings and monuments, or for decorating the outside of buildings. They are also used for kitchen counters and roofing shingles. Headstones, polished dimension stones usually made of granite, are used to mark graves in many countries.

Sand, gravel or crushed rock excavated from a quarry is called aggregate. Aggregate is used in construction to create stable foundations for things like roads and railroad tracks.

Aggregate is also used to make concrete and asphalt. For this reason, asphalt and concrete plants are often built next to quarries. Asphalt is an oily substance that is mixed with aggregate for road construction. Concrete, invented by the ancient Romans, is a mixture of sticky stone cement and aggregate. The Romans depended on concrete and aggregate to build their vast system of roads and aqueducts, many of which are still standing today.

Quarries and the Environment

Quarries change their environment. They displace huge amounts of soil and plants, and force animals out of the area. Abandoned quarries rarely leave enough soil to allow life to return to the area.

Some abandoned quarries can fill with water, creating artificial lakes. Many of these lakes are clear and deep, creating a safe swimming environment for people and some aquatic animals, such as frogs and birds. Sometimes, however, lakes created by abandoned quarries have mining equipment left on the bottom, making them unsafe for swimming. Toxic materials exposed by mining activities can also leak into water at abandoned quarries.

Quarries are prone to flooding because they are sometimes dug below the water table. Environmentalists fear the toxic materials could seep into groundwater if an abandoned quarrys water reaches an areas water table. This is the concern surrounding the Berkeley Pit, a former copper quarry near Butte, Montana. The Berkeley Pit is one of the largest toxic waste sites in the U.S., and its water is within 61 meters (200 feet) of the areas water table.

To avoid contamination, miners must sometimes pump water out of quarries. Quarries are sealed from the surrounding water table. Abandoned quarries can also be turned into landfills.

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

abandoned

Adjective

deserted.

aggregate

Noun

sand, gravel, or crushed rock excavated from a quarry.

ancient Egypt

Noun

civilization in northeastern Africa, lasting from 3200 BCE to about 400 CE.

ancient Rome

Noun

civilization founded on the Mediterranean Sea, lasting from the 8th century BCE to 476 CE.

aquatic

Adjective

having to do with water.

aqueduct

Noun

a pipe or passage used for carrying water from a distance.

asphalt

Noun

chemical compound made of dark, solid rocks and minerals often used in paving roads.

avoid

Verb

to stay away from something.

Berkeley Pit

Noun

large, abandoned copper mine in Butte, Montana.

bird

Noun

egg-laying animal with feathers, wings, and a beak.

blast

Verb

to break up by use of an explosion.

bluestone

Noun

small or mid-size stone at Stonehenge.

bronze

Noun

metal made of the elements copper and tin.

calumet

Noun

long tobacco pipe used by some Native American tribes at ceremonies.

carve

Verb

to cut or slice through.

cement

Noun

hard material used as a building material or a binding agent for stronger building materials such as concrete.

cemetery

Noun

place for burying the dead.

chisel

Noun

metal tool with a sharp, wedge-shaped edge used for carving.

community

Noun

group of organisms or a social group interacting in a specific region under similar environmental conditions.

concrete

Noun

hard building material made from mixing cement with rock and water.

construct

Verb

to build or erect.

contaminate

Verb

to poison or make hazardous.

copper

Noun

chemical element with the symbol Cu.

diamond

Noun

type of crystal that is pure carbon and the hardest known natural substance.

dimension stone

Noun

large, precisely cut stone excavated from a quarry.

displace

Verb

to remove or force to evacuate.

drilling equipment

Noun

machinery and tools used to dig into the Earth.

Earth

Noun

our planet, the third from the Sun. The Earth is the only place in the known universe that supports life.

Encyclopedic Entry: Earth

engineer

Noun

person who plans the building of things, such as structures (construction engineer) or substances (chemical engineer).

enormous

Adjective

very large.

environment

Noun

conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

excavate

Verb

to expose by digging.

explosive

Noun

material that can quickly and violently expand due to a chemical change.

extract

Verb

to pull out.

fascinate

Verb

to cause an interest in.

foundation

Noun

structure on which a building is constructed.

frog

Noun

animal (amphibian) with smooth skin and long hind legs for jumping.

granite

Noun

type of hard, igneous rock.

grave

Noun

specific place where a body is buried.

groundwater

Noun

water found in an aquifer.

Encyclopedic Entry: groundwater

haul

Verb

to move or transport something heavy.

hauling equipment

Noun

machinery and tools used for transporting heavy material.

headstone

Noun

stone used to mark a grave. Also called a gravestone.

industrial

Adjective

having to do with factories or mechanical production.

lake

Noun

body of water surrounded by land.

Lakota

Noun

people and culture of seven Sioux tribes native to the Great Plains.

landfill

Noun

site where garbage is layered with dirt and other absorbing material to prevent contamination of the surrounding land or water.

limestone

Noun

type of sedimentary rock mostly made of calcium carbonate from shells and skeletons of marine organisms.

manually

Adverb

done without electronic or mechanical equipment.

marble

Noun

type of metamorphic rock.

massive

Adjective

very large or heavy.

mechanical

Adjective

having to do with machinery or automated tools.

metamorphic rock

Noun

rock that has transformed its chemical qualities from igneous or sedimentary.

Midwest

Noun

area of the United States consisting of the following states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

mineral

Noun

inorganic material that has a characteristic chemical composition and specific crystal structure.

mining

Noun

process of extracting ore from the Earth.

moai

Noun

very large stone figures carved and displayed on Easter Island.

monument

Noun

large structure representing an event, idea, or person.

open-pit mine

Noun

place where rocks, sand, or minerals are extracted from the surface of the Earth.

pick

Noun

tool resembling a hammer, with at least one end pointed, used for carving stone.

plant

Noun

building and equipment used for manufacturing or a type of industry.

Polynesia

Noun

island group in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand, Hawaii, and Easter Island.

precise

Adjective

exact.

prehistoric

Adjective

period of time that occurred before the invention of written records.

prone

Adjective

vulnerable or tending to act in a certain way.

pulley

Noun

wheel with a rope, band, or cable running around it used to generate power or transport goods over short distances.

Pyramids

Plural Noun

three large pyramids outside Giza, Egypt: the Pyramid of Khufu (2560 BCE), the Pyramid of Khafre (2532 BCE) and the Pyramid of Menkaure (2515 BCE). Also called the Pyramids of Giza.

quarry

Noun

site where stone is mined.

Encyclopedic Entry: quarry

railroad

Noun

road constructed with metal tracks on which trains travel.

rock

Noun

natural substance composed of solid mineral matter.

roofing shingle

Noun

piece of tough material used in overlapping layers to protect a roof.

sand

Noun

small, loose grains of disintegrated rocks.

seep

Verb

to slowly flow through a border.

slave

Noun

person who is owned by another person or group of people.

sled

Noun

vehicle used to travel across ice or snow, consisting of a flat platform mounted on blades called runners.

stable

Adjective

steady and reliable.

stone

Noun

piece of rock.

sub-surface mine

Noun

place where rocks, sand, or minerals are extracted from the Earth through deep tunnels.

toxic

Adjective

poisonous.

toxic waste

Noun

chemical compound dangerous to humans and their environment.

transport

Verb

to move material from one place to another.

water table

Noun

underground area where the Earth's surface is saturated with water. Also called water level.

Encyclopedic Entry: water table

Credits

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Writer

Kim Rutledge
Melissa McDaniel
Diane Boudreau
Tara Ramroop
Santani Teng
Erin Sprout
Hilary Costa
Hilary Hall
Jeff Hunt

Illustrator

Tim Gunther
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society

Editor

Kara West
Jeannie Evers

Educator Reviewer

Nancy Wynne

Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

Sources

Dunn, Margery G. (Editor). (1989, 1993). "Exploring Your World: The Adventure of Geography." Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

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