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Making a Soil Monolith

Aleshia Mueller, Carleton College
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project
Initial Publication Date: October 15, 2007 | Reviewed: November 25, 2019


Maxfield Soil Series Monolith
A 4 minute video showing how to construct a soil monolith. A Quicktime ( 21.6MB May15 07) version is also available.

This extended exercise engages soils students in both field and laboratory work through the collection and preservation of a soil monolith, a vertical section of soil that has been extracted from an exposed soil profile in its natural position, treated to preserve the texture and structure of the soil as it appears naturally on the landscape, and mounted on a board for display.

Soil monoliths are excellent for educational purposes because although visual interpretation is an integral component of understanding soil profiles, it is not always possible or convenient to examine soil in situ. Soil monoliths make it possible for students to experience how soils vary both spatially and temporally across the landscape. Professional soil scientists, educators, and museum curators use monoliths to observe and analyze properties of a diversity of soils in one place.

Finished monoliths can be displayed at your university or donated to a museum so that others who are not able to examine that soil type in situ have the opportunity to observe a section of it.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

Soil Monoliths Ivory Coast
  • Understand the major soil forming factors and processes
  • recognize soil horizons
  • describe soil features and why they vary from soil to soil
  • gain an in-depth understanding of a specific soil type
  • complete a soil profile description
  • Gain hands on experience in professional field soils methods
  • Successfully complete all of the steps to create a soil monolith for display.

Context for Use

This exercise is best for students with some understanding of soil features such as horizons, texture, structure, and color and some experience describing soils. For this reason, it works well around the middle of an introductory soils course.

It is an extended exercise that consists of four field/lab days. Two days are spent in the field describing the soil and extracting the monolith. Two days are spent in the lab preparing the monolith, applying the fixative, and making the descriptive placards.

Depending on how you tailor this to your class, it will take about four weeks to complete all of the steps in this exercise. Allow time for the extracted monolith to dry between steps where indicated.

Teaching Materials

  • A four minute video on how to make a soil monolith is available as a flash movie at the top of this page, as well as in Quicktime mp4 format ( 21.6MB May15 07) for download.
  • Equipment used to describe soil
  • Equipment needed to make a soil monolith

Teaching Notes and Tips

Step one, field: Observe and describe a soil profile
Step two, field: Prepare profile face and extract monolith
Step three, lab: Prepare monolith face
Step four, lab: Apply fixative
Step five, lab: Create plaques, paint board, add hardware
Download a pdf of Step-by-Step Instructions (Acrobat (PDF) 854kB Oct15 07).


Observe field and lab work. Assess quality and accuracy of location and profile descriptions. Compare detail and accuracy of soil description with previous descriptions.

References and Resources

Belohlavy, F., 1994, Making Soil Monoliths Using White Glue as a Fixative: Soil Survey Horizons

Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service: How to Make Miniature Soil Monoliths