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Cut-and-cover construction of the Paris Métro in France
Earthworks ditch and rampart in Germany - age prehistorical prior to 300 BC
Geofoam is a new lightweight earthworks technique used to build a bridge overpass on weak soil near Montreal

Earthworks are engineering works created through the processing of parts of the earth's surface involving quantities of soil or unformed rock.

Heavy construction equipment is usually used due to the amounts of material to be moved — up to millions of cubic metres. Earthwork construction was revolutionized by the development of the (Fresno) scraper and other earth-moving machines such as the loader, the dump truck, the grader, the bulldozer, the backhoe, and the dragline excavator.

Typical earthworks include road construction, railway beds, causeways, dams, levees, canals, and berms. Other common earthworks are land grading to reconfigure the topography of a site, or to stabilize slopes.

In military engineering, earthworks are, more specifically, types of fortifications constructed from soil. Although soil is not very strong, it is cheap enough that huge quantities can be used, generating formidable structures. Examples of older earthwork fortifications include moats, sod walls, motte-and-bailey castles, and hill forts. Modern examples include trenches and berms.


Excavation may be classified by type of material:[1]:13.1

  • Topsoil excavation
  • Earth excavation
  • Rock excavation
  • Muck excavation – this usually contains excess water and unsuitable soil
  • Unclassified excavation – this is any combination of material types

Excavation may be classified by the purpose:[1]:13.1, 13.2

Shoring structuresEdit

Mass haul planningEdit

Excavation of over 76 million cubic metres (23 million cubic metres of which was additional to the planned amount due to landslides) for the Culebra Cut, Panama canal construction photo taken circa 1907
Earthworks cut and fill map and estimation summary produced by Kubla Cubed.

Engineers need to concern themselves with issues of geotechnical engineering (such as soil density and strength) and with quantity estimation to ensure that soil volumes in the cuts match those of the fills, while minimizing the distance of movement. In the past, these calculations were done by hand using a slide rule and with methods such as Simpson's rule. Earthworks cost is a function of hauled amount x hauled distance. The goal of mass haul planning is to determine these amounts and the goal of mass haul optimization is to minimize either or both.[2]

Now they can be performed with a computer and specialized software, including optimisation on haul cost and not haul distance (as haul cost is not proportional to haul distance).

Calculation softwareEdit

The table below provides a list of software used in the engineering and construction industries to plan, execute and cost these earthworks. Earthwork software is a subset of CAD software, it is often the case that earthworks software is in the form of an add-on to a more general CAD package such as AutoCAD rather than a stand alone product.[3]

Earthwork software principally is used to calculate cut and fill volumes which are then used for producing material and time estimates. However most products offer additional functionality such as the ability to takeoff terrain elevation from plans (using contour lines and spot heights); produce shaded cut and fill maps; produce cross sections and visualize terrain in 3D.[4]

The means by which volumes are calculated in software can differ quite considerably leading to potentially different results with the same input data. Many software products use methods based on triangulated irregular networks (TINS) and triangular prism volume algorithms, however other calculation methods are in use based on rationalizing elevations into high density grids or cross-sections.[5][6][7]

Title Developer Stand Alone\Add On Operating System Calculation Method Imports Exports
12D 12D Solutions Stand Alone Windows TIN Prisms Points (xyz file, dxf, dwg) : Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg) ??
Cut+Fill R Goddard Stand Alone Windows & Linux with WINE TIN & Microgrid Points (csv) Also allows plotting points by moving mouse over bmp csv table of results & bmp of cut/fill area
n4ce Applications in CADD Stand Alone Windows Tin Prisms, Grid or Section Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines\Triangles\Alignments (.dxf, .dwg, xyz file, LandXML, MX Genio, Total Station Raw, GNSS) Sections, Reports, 3D model, CAD, CSV
AEC CutFill AEC Logic Add on for AutoCAD Windows Cross Section Cross Sections (AutoCAD XData) Cross Section (.dxf)
Terra Alpha Terra Alpha Inc Standalone Windows Solid 3D Modelling with AutoMesh (New) Points(dxf) : Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf) : DXF File with Text (without Z value) Cross Section (.dxf) : 3D Model : Cut/Fill Layout and PDF Report
Civil 3D Autodesk Stand Alone Windows TIN Prisms Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg) Surface (.dxf, .dwg)
Carlson Takeoff Carlson Software Stand Alone or AutoCAD Add on Windows TIN Prisms or Grid Points (xyz file, dxf, dwg) : Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg, .pdf) Reports (.pdf, excel)
Earthwork 4D AGTEK Stand Alone Windows High-Density Cross Sections through TIN Surfaces Points (pnez text file, .dxf, .dwg, .dgn, .xml) : Contour Lines\Break Lines (pnez text file, .dxf, .dwg, .dgn, .xml, .kmz, .kml, .pdf) : Route Alignment Data (station-offset text file, .dxf, .dwg, .dgn, .xml, .pdf) : Surface TINs (pnez text file, .dxf, .dwg, .dgn, .xml, .tn3, .ttm) Points (pnez text file, .dxf, .dwg, .xml) : Contour Lines\Break Lines (pnez text file, .dxf, .dwg, .xml, .ln3) : Route Alignment Data (station-offset text file, .cgo, .xml) : Surface TINs (pnez text file, .dxf, .dwg, .xml, .tn3, .ttm) : Reports (.csv, .xls, .kmz, .emf, .wrl .pdf)
Business Centre HCE Trimble Stand Alone Windows TIN Prisms Points (xyz file, dxf, dwg) : Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg) ??
InSite SiteWork InSite Software Stand Alone Windows TIN Prisms Points (dxf, dwg): Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg, pdf) BIM Surface (dwg, dxf), Trimble, Leica, TopCon, LandXML, Reports (pdf, Excel)
Earthworks OnScreen Tally Systems Integrates with MS Excel
Windows ?? Points,Contour Lines\Break Lines (.pdf) ??
ESurvey Earthwork ESurveying Softech Stand Alone Windows Grid Points (xyz file, dxf, dwg) Reports (Excel)
Fast Terrain Diolkos3D Stand Alone Windows ?? Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg) ??
Pizer Earth Pizer Incorporated Stand Alone Windows Cross Section Manual Input Cross Section (.dxf)
EarthWorkPro Planswift Plug-in for Planswift Windows Grid Manual Input Report (.csv, Excel, XML, HTML)
HEADS Site Techsoft Engineering Services Stand Alone Windows TIN Prism Points (xyz file) Surfaces (.dxf, .dwg)
Nonio C \ DomusTerra Interstudio Stand Alone Windows & macOS ?? Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg, xyz file, QD3D) Surfaces (Domus.Cad, GDL, QuickDraw 3D, Quesa MetaFile).
NRG Surveys NRG Survey Systems Stand Alone Windows ?? ?? ??
Mudshark Brightbox Software Stand Alone Windows Solid Modelling from TIN,TIN Prism Points (xyz file, dxf, dwg, various image formats) : Contour Lines

(.dxf, .dwg, .pdf, various image formats)

Cross Sections (.pdf), Results (xml, Microsoft Excel), 3D .dwg/.dxf with results tags, image files of project.
Model Maker Systems Model Maker Stand Alone Windows Grid & Cross Sections ?? ??
KeyTERRA-FIRMA KTF Software Add on for AutoCAD & BricsCAD Windows TIN Prism Points (xyz file, dxf, dwg) : Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg) Cross sections and cut & fill depths as contours or solid colors (.dwg, .dxf); txt report files; Surfaces (.dwg, .dxf, LandXML); Water volume depth graphs
Kubla Cubed Kubla Stand Alone Windows TIN Prism Points (xyz file, .dwg, .dxf, .xls, .xlsx), Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dwg, .dxf), Surfaces (.dwg, .dxf, LandXML) Surfaces (.dwg, .dxf, LandXML), Designs (.dwg, .dxf, LandXML) : Report (.doc, .pdf, .xlsx)
Earthworks Trakware Stand Alone Windows TIN Prism Points (.dwg), Contour Lines\Break Lines ( .dwg) ??
LSS DTM Software Stand Alone Windows TIN Prism Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg, xyz file, LandXML, MX Genio) Surfaces (.dxf, LandXML, xyz file)
LisCAD LisTech Stand Alone Windows TIN Prism Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg) Cut & Fill Areas (.dwg, .dgn, LandXML)
QuickDIRT Constructive Computing Stand Alone Windows Grid Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf) Surface (xyz file)
SiteWorks/OS Vertigraph Stand Alone Windows Grid Points (xyz file, dxf, dwg), Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg) Reports, Surface, Cross Sections (HTML .pdf, Word, Excel)
SCC Pro Software SCC Survey Stand Alone Windows TIN Prism or Grid support AutoCAD, Microstation, MX MOSS and LandXML support AutoCAD, Microstation, MX MOSS and LandXML
Cut & Fill Synergy Information Systems A component of Sage Timberline Office Windows ?? ?? ??
Terrain Tools Softtree Stand Alone Windows ?? Points\Contour Lines (LandXML, xyz File, Arc Grid) Surface (LandXML, .dxf, .dwg)
WinEx Master\WinEx GRADE Roctek International Stand Alone Windows Super High Density Grid Points\Contours (.pdf, .dxf, .dwg, Land .xml) Most Image Files, Field Point data Customer Reports and Excel .Docx, Land.xml, .dxf, .txt, .rtf, .txt
TraceAir TraceAir Technologies Inc Web-based SaaS web-browser Super High Density Grid Points\Contours (.pdf, .dxf, .dwg, Land .xml) Most Image Files, Field Point data Maps in .tiff, .pdf and reports in .xls
Causeway Estimating Causeway Stand Alone Windows ?? Points\Contour Lines(xyz file, .dwg, MX Genio, .pdf) Surfaces (.dwg, MX Genio)
Propeller Platform Propeller Stand Alone web-browser TIN Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .ttm) Textured OBJ, DEM, GEOTIFF, DXF (3 resolutions), Custom Contours, Ortho GeoTiff, Ortho JPEG, Standard-Density Point Cloud, Compressed LAS
Viewpoint Earthwork Software Viewpoint Construction Software Stand Alone Windows & Mac OS Grid ?? ??

In archeologyEdit

Offa's Dyke, southern Britain

In archaeology, earthworks are artificial changes in land level, typically made from piles of artificially placed or sculpted rocks and soil. Earthworks can themselves be archaeological features, or they can show features beneath the surface.[8]


Earthworks of interest to archaeologists include hill forts, henges, mounds, platform mounds, effigy mounds, enclosures, long barrows, tumuli, ridge and furrow, mottes, round barrows, and other tombs.[9]

  • Hill forts, a type of fort made out of mostly earth and other natural materials including sand, straw, and water, were built as early as the late Stone Age and were built more frequently during the Bronze Age and Iron Age as a means of protection.[10] See also Oppidum.
  • Henge earthworks are those that consist of a flat area of earth in a circular shape that are encircled by a ditch, or several circular ditches, with a bank on the outside of the ditch built with the earth from inside the ditch. They are believed to have been used as monuments for spiritual ritual ceremonies.[11]
  • A mound is a substantial manmade pile of earth or rocks that was frequently created to mark burial sites [12]
  • Platform mounds are pyramid or rectangular-shaped mounds that are used to hold a building or temple on top.[13]
  • An effigy mound is a pile of earth, often very large in scale, that is shaped into the image of a person or animal, often for symbolic or spiritual reasons [14]
  • An enclosure is a space that is surrounded by an earthwork.[15]
  • Long barrows are oblong-shaped mounds that are used for burials.[16]
  • A tumulus or barrow is a mound of earth created over a tomb.[17]
  • A cross dyke or cross-ridge dyke is a bank and ditch, or sometimes a ditch between two banks, that crosses a ridge or spur of high ground. Found in Europe and often belonging to the later Bronze Age or Iron Age.[18] Often marked on Ordnance Survey maps in the UK.[19]
  • Ridge and furrows are sets of parallel depressions and ridges in the ground formed primarily through historic farming techniques.[20]
  • Mottes are mound structures made of earth and stone that once held castles. They are an important part of the motte-and-bailey castle, a castle design during early Norman times in which the castle is built on the motte, and surrounded by a ditch and a bailey, which is an enclosure with a stone wall.[21]
  • A round barrow is a mound that is in a rounded shape that was used during Neolithic times as a burial mound.[22]
  • Geoglyph, a large design or motif


Earthworks can vary in height from a few centimetres to the size of Silbury Hill at 40 metres (130 ft). They can date from the Neolithic to the present. The structures can also stretch for many tens of kilometres (e.g. Offa's Dyke and Antonine Wall). In area, they can cover many hectares; for example, Maiden Castle, which is 19 hectares (47 acres).


Shallow earthworks are often more visible as cropmarks or in aerial photographs if taken when the sun is low in the sky and shadows are more pronounced.[23] Similarly, earthworks may be more visible after a frost or a light dusting of snow.[24]

Earthworks can be detected and plotted using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR). This technique is particularly useful for mapping small variations in land height that would be difficult to detect by eye. It can be used to map features beneath forest canopy[25] and for features hidden by other vegetation. LIDAR results can be input into a geographic information system (GIS) to produce three-dimensional representations of the earthworks.


An accurate survey of the earthworks can enable them to be interpreted without the need for excavation.[26] For example, earthworks from deserted medieval villages can be used to determine the location, size, and layout of lost settlements. Often these earthworks can point to the purpose of such a settlement, as well the context in which it existed.


Earthworks in North America include mounds built by Native Americans known as the Mound Builders. Ancient people who lived in the American Midwest commonly built effigy mounds, which are mounds shaped like animals (real or imaginary) or people. Possibly the most famous of these effigy mounds is Serpent Mound. Located in the Ohio, this 411-meterlong earthen work is thought to memorialize alignments of the planets and stars that were of special significance to the Native Americans that constructed it.[27] Cone-shaped or conical mounds are also numerous, with thousands of them scattered across the American Midwest, some over 80 feet tall. These conical mounds appear to be marking the graves of one person or even dozens of people.[28] An example of a conical mound is the Miamisburg Mound in central Ohio, which has been estimated to have been built by people of the Adena culture in the time range of 800 B.C. to 100 AD.[29] The American Plains also hold temple mounds, or platform mounds, which are giant pyramid-shaped mounds with flat tops that once held temples made of wood. Examples of temple mounds include Monks Mound located at the Cahokia site in Collinsville, Illinois,[30] and Mound H at the Crystal River site in Citrus County, Florida.[31] The earthworks at Poverty Point occupy one of the largest-area sites in North America, as they cover some 920 acres (320 ha) of land in Louisiana.[32]

Military earthworks can result in subsequent archaeological earthworks. Examples include Roman marching forts which can leave small earthworks. During the American Civil War, earthwork fortifications were built throughout the country, by both Confederate and Union sides.[33] The largest earthwork fort built during the war was Fortress Rosecrans, which originally encompassed 255 acres (103 ha).[34][relevant? ]

In northeastern Somalia, near the city of Bosaso at the end of the Baladi valley, lies an earthwork 2 km to 3 km long.[35][36] Local tradition recounts that the massive embankment marks the grave of a community matriarch. It is the largest such structure in the wider Horn region.[36]

Bigo is an extensive earthworks site located in the interlacustrine region of southwestern Uganda, Africa. Situated on the south shore of the Katonga river, the Bigo earthworks consist of a series of ditches and berms comprising an outer arch that encompasses four interconnected enclosures; when combined the Bigo earthworks measure more than 10 kilometers long.[37] Radiometric dates from archaeological investigations at Bigo date the earthworks to roughly AD 1300 - 1500, and they have been called Uganda's "largest and most important ancient monument".[38]

The Steppe Geoglyphs, discovered in 2007 using Google Earth, are an example of Earthworks in Central Asia.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Frederick S. Merritt, M. Kent Loftin, Jonathan T. Ricketts, Standard Handbook for Civil Engineers, Fourth Edition, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1995.
  2. ^ "Earthworks cost optimization through mass haul planning". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  3. ^ "Taking the Measure of Methods for Estimating Earthwork Volumes - Forester Network". Forester Network. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  4. ^ "Vertigraph, Inc. -- Automating the Takeoff & Estimating Process". Archived from the original on 2015-12-15. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  5. ^ "How to Estimate Cut and Fill Volumes for Earthworks Projects | Grid Method, Cross Section Method, Earthworks Software". Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  6. ^ "Vertigraph, Inc. -- Calculating Cut and Fill Quantities : Modern Techniques and Best Practices". Archived from the original on 2016-01-31. Retrieved 2016-02-10.
  7. ^ Cheng, Jian-chuan; Jiang, Long-jian (2013-11-06). "Accuracy Comparison of Roadway Earthwork Computation between 3D and 2D Methods". Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. Intelligent and Integrated Sustainable Multimodal Transportation Systems Proceedings from the 13th COTA International Conference of Transportation Professionals (CICTP2013). 96: 1277–1285. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.08.145.
  8. ^ Muir, 77
  9. ^ Wood, 85–96; see also: excavation
  10. ^ Scott, Willie. "How Earthwork Forts were Built". Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  11. ^ "The Definition of a Henge". Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  12. ^ "Mound". Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  13. ^ "Platform Mound". Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  14. ^ "Effigy Mound". Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  15. ^ "Enclosure". Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  16. ^ "West Kennet Long Barrow". Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  17. ^ "Tumulus". Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  18. ^ Darvill, Timothy (2008). Oxford Concise Dictionary of Archaeology, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, p. 116. ISBN 978-0-19-953404-3.
  19. ^ Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger series.
  20. ^ "Ridge and Furrow". Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  21. ^ "Motte". Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  22. ^ "Round Barrow". Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  23. ^ Wilson, 38
  24. ^ Aston, 14
  25. ^ EID; crater beneath canopy
  26. ^ Taylor, 59–60
  27. ^ Feder,344
  28. ^ Feder, 54
  29. ^ Crystal, Ellie. "Mounds of North America". Retrieved 12 April 2012.
  30. ^ Feder, 54
  31. ^ Weisman, Brent (1995). "Crystal River: A Ceremonial Mound Center on the Florida Gulf Coast". Florida Archaeology. 8: i-86.
  32. ^ Kidder, Tristram R.; Ortmann, Anthony L.; Arco, Lee J. (November 2008), "Poverty Point and the Archaeology of Singularity", Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Record, 8 (5): 9–12
  33. ^ Earl J. Hess (2005). "Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War". UNC Press. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  34. ^ Ed Bearss (1960). "Fortress Rosecrans Research Report". National Park Service. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
  35. ^ Hodd, Michael (1994). East African Handbook. Trade & Travel Publications. p. 640. ISBN 0844289833.
  36. ^ a b Ali, Ismail Mohamed (1970). Somalia Today: General Information. Ministry of Information and National Guidance, Somali Democratic Republic. p. 295.
  37. ^ Sutton, John (2000). "Ntusi and Bigo: Farmers, cattle-herders and rulers in western Uganda, AD 1000-1500". Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa.
  38. ^ Posnansky, Merrick (1969). "Bigo Bya Mugenyi". The Uganda Journal.

Further readingEdit

  • Aston, Mick (2002) Interpreting the Landscape, Tempus, ISBN 0-7524-2520-X
  • Feder, Kenneth (2008) Linking to the Past, 2nd ed., New York: Oxford, ISBN 978-0-19-533117-2
  • Muir, Richard (2004) Landscape Encyclopedia, Bollington, Cheshire: Windgather, ISBN 0-9545575-0-6
  • Taylor, Christopher (1974) Fieldwork in Medieval Archaeology, London: Batsford, ISBN 0-7134-2850-3
  • Wilson, D.R. (2000) Air Photo Interpretation for Archaeologists, 2nd ed., Stroud: Tempus, ISBN 0-7524-1498-4
  • Wood, Eric (1975) Collins Field Guide to Archaeology, 4th ed., London: Collins, ISBN 0-00-219168-7

External linksEdit