Relative dating techniques to determine the age of rocks and fossils
Relative dating technique is used to arrange layers of rock or geologic events in chronological order. This method does not give any information about the ages of the geological event. The study of layered sedimentary rocks is called stratigraphy. Stratigraphy employs the following principles to study the layers of rocks:
Principle of superposition: Sedimentary rocks are arranged on top of another in a sequence. The oldest layer is found at the bottom, and the new layer is at the top. The positioning of the rocks in a sequence is known as the principle of superposition.
Principle of horizontality: The study of the sedimentary rocks that are laid one above the other in flat or horizontal layers is known as the principle of horizontality.
Principle of lateral continuity: It is the study of sedimentary rocks that extend sideways. These rocks are found in the basin. Strata of these rocks can be cut by river flow or canyon, but these strata are continuous on either side. This is known as the principle of lateral continuity.
Principle of cross cutting: Sedimentary rocks are sometimes disturbed and they cut across the layers after the deposition of rocks by faulty movements. This is known as the principle of cross-cutting.
Principle of faunal succession or correlation: The principles of superposition, lateral continuity, horizontality, and cross-cutting give information about the order of the rocks in a particular position. They do not provide insight about the ages of the rocks at different areas. However, the fossil records of different organisms appear and disappear at the same geological time. The fossils that are embedded in the different layers of the rocks can give information about the age of the rock layer, even when the rocks are far apart. This process of matching fossils is known as correlation.
Index fossils are fossil species that are used to distinguish one layer from another. The criteria for a fossil to be considered as index fossils are as follows:
The fossil species must have lived at one specific time period.
It must be easy to identify.
It must be abundant and found in many places. For example, the fossil of ammonites in a rock present in different places can give information that the rock belongs to Mesozoic era.
Determining numerical age of rocks and fossils
Unlike relative dating, absolute dating methods provide the age of rocks and fossils. Geologists use radiometric dating methods for identifying the age of fossils and rocks. The following dating methods are used to identify the age of fossils and rocks:
Radiocarbon dating: This method is used to determine the age of organic materials such as bones, shells, and wood. Fossils ranging 1â€“70,000 years can be determined. This method measures the radioactive decay of 14C in organic matter after removing them from the Earthâ€™s strata.
Kâ€“Ar dating: This method is used to determine the age of the glasses and minerals that contain potassium. Using this method, fossils ranging 1,000â€“billion of years can be determined. This method determines the age of fossil of radioactive decay of 40K in rocks and minerals.
Uranium series dating: This method is used to determine the age of minerals that contain uranium, corals, shells, and teeth. By using this method, fossils ranging 1,000â€“500,000 years can be determined. This method measures the radioactive decay of 234U to 230Th from rocks and minerals.
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