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Dating Fossils - How Are Fossils Dated?
So, how do we know how old a fossil is? There are two main methods determining a fossils age, relative dating and absolute dating. Relative dating is used to determine a fossils approximate age by comparing it to similar rocks and fossils of known ages. Absolute dating is used to determine a precise age of a fossil by using radiometric dating to measure the decay of isotopes, either within the fossil or more often the rocks associated with it.
Relative Dating The majority of the time fossils are dated using relative dating techniques. Using relative dating the fossil is compared to something for which an age is already known.
For example if you have a fossil trilobite and it was found in the Wheeler Formation.
The Wheeler Formation has been previously dated to approximately million year old, so we know the trilobite is also about million years old.
Scientists can use certain types of fossils referred to as index fossils to assist in relative dating via correlation. Index fossils are fossils that are known to only occur within a very specific age range.
Typically commonly occurring fossils that had a widespread geographic distribution such as brachiopods, trilobites, and ammonites work best as index fossils. If the fossil you are trying to date occurs alongside one of these index fossils, then the fossil you are dating must fall into the age range of the index fossil.
Sometimes multiple index fossils can be used. In a hypothetical example, a rock formation contains fossils of a type of brachiopod known to occur between and million years. The same rock formation also contains a type of trilobite that was known to live to million years ago.
Since the rock formation contains both types of fossils the ago of the rock formation must be in the overlapping date range of to million years. Studying the layers of rock or strata can also be useful. Layers of rock are deposited sequentially.
Dating techniques fossils
If a layer of rock containing the fossil is higher up in the sequence that another layer, you know that layer must be younger in age. This can often be complicated by the fact that geological forces can cause faulting and tilting of rocks.
FOSSILS: how fossils are dated
Absolute Dating Absolute dating is used to determine a precise age of a rock or fossil through radiometric dating methods. This uses radioactive minerals that occur in rocks and fossils almost like a geological clock.
So, often layers of volcanic rocks above and below the layers containing fossils can be dated to provide a date range for the fossil containing rocks. The atoms in some chemical elements have different forms, called isotopes.
These isotopes break down at a constant rate over time through radioactive decay.
By measuring the ratio of the amount of the original parent isotope to the amount of the daughter isotopes that it breaks down into an age can be determined. Geologists have studied the order in which fossils appeared and disappeared through time and rocks.
This study is called biostratigraphy. Fossils can help to match rocks of the same age, even when you find those rocks a long way apart.
This matching process is called correlation, which has been an important process in constructing geological timescales. Some fossils, called index fossils, are particularly useful in correlating rocks.
Absolute dating is used to determine a precise age of a fossil by using radiometric dating to measure the decay of isotopes, either within the fossil or more often the rocks associated with it. Relative Dating The majority of the time fossils are dated using relative dating techniques. Using relative dating the fossil is compared to something. Sep 14, At some sites, animal fossils can be dated precisely by one of these other methods. For sites that cannot be readily dated, the animal species found there can be compared to well-dated species from other sites. In this way, sites that do not have radioactive or other materials for dating can be given a reliable age estimate. Molecular clock.
For a fossil to be a good index fossil, it needs to have lived during one specific time period, be easy to identify and have been abundant and found in many places. For example, ammonites lived in the Mesozoic era.
If you find ammonites in a rock in the South Island and also in a rock in the North Island, you can say that both rocks are Mesozoic. Different species of ammonites lived at different times within the Mesozoic, so identifying a fossil species can help narrow down when a rock was formed.
Correlation can involve matching an undated rock with a dated one at another location. Suppose you find a fossil at one place that cannot be dated using absolute methods. That fossil species may have been dated somewhere else, so you can match them and say that your fossil has a similar age.
Jun 12, An array of absolute dating techniques has made it possible to establish the timescale of Earth's history, including the age and origin of life, the timing of mass extinctions and the record of. Dating techniques are procedures used by scientists to determine the age of rocks, fossils, or artifacts. Relative dating methods tell only if one sample is older or younger than another; absolute dating methods provide an approximate date in years. The latter have generally been available only since Many absolute dating techniques take. May 18, Relative dating is used to arrange geological events, and the rocks they leave behind, in a sequence. The method of reading the order is called stratigraphy (layers of rock are called strata). Relative dating does not provide actual numerical dates for the rocks.
Some of the most useful fossils for dating purposes are very small ones. For example, microscopic dinoflagellates have been studied and dated in great detail around the world.
Correlation with them has helped geologists, such as Professor James Cramptondate many New Zealand rocks, including those containing dinosaurs.
Bring relative dating principles to life with the activity Rock layers and relative dating.