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.

quarry
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.

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.

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.

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 about 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.

Noun

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

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.

Noun

water found in an aquifer.

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.

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.

Noun

site where stone is mined.

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.

Noun

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