Francis Buchanan-Hamilton first described and named a laterite formation in southern India in 1807. He named it laterite from the Latin word later, which means a brick; this rock can easily be cut into brick-shaped blocks for building.
Laterite is a surface formation rich in iron and aluminium, formed in hot and wet tropical areas. It develops by intensive and long-lasting weathering of the underlying parent rock. Nearly all laterites are rusty-red because of iron oxides.
Historically, laterite was cut into brick-like shapes and used in monument building. After 1000 CE construction at Angkor Wat and other southeast Asian sites changed to rectangular temple enclosures made of laterite, brick and stone.
Laterites can be either soft and easily broken into smaller pieces, or firm and physically resistant. Basement rocks are buried under the thick weathered layer and rarely exposed.