Introduction to Benchmarks

The term benchmark originates from the chiseled horizontal marks that surveyors made in stone structures, into which an angle-iron could be placed to form a "bench" for a leveling rod, thus ensuring that a leveling rod could be accurately repositioned in the same place in future. These marks were usually indicated with a chiseled arrow below the horizontal line.

The height of a benchmark is calculated relative to the heights of nearby benchmarks in a network extending from a fundamental benchmark, a point with a precisely known relationship to the level datum of the area, typically mean sea level. The position and height of each benchmark is shown on large-scale maps.

The terms "height" and "elevation" are often used interchangeably, but in many jurisdictions they have specific meanings; "height" commonly refers to a local or relative difference in the vertical (such as the height of a building), whereas "elevation" refers to the difference from a nominated reference surface (such as sea-level, or a mathematical/geodetic concept known as the geoid).