So carbon 14 is used to date materials that aren’t that old geologically, say in the tens of thousands of years, while potassium-argon dating can be used to determine the ages of much older materials, in the millions and billions year range.Chart of a few different isotope half lifes: In reality, geologists tend to mix and match relative and absolute age dates to piece together a geologic history.With absolute age dating, you get a real age in actual years.It’s based either on fossils which are recognized to represent a particular interval of time, or on radioactive decay of specific isotopes. Based on the Rule of Superposition, certain organisms clearly lived before others, during certain geologic times.Absolute age dating is like saying you are 15 years old and your grandfather is 77 years old.To determine the relative age of different rocks, geologists start with the assumption that unless something has happened, in a sequence of sedimentary rock layers, the newer rock layers will be on top of older ones. This rule is common sense, but it serves as a powerful reference point.Say for example that a volcanic dike, or a fault, cuts across several sedimentary layers, or maybe through another volcanic rock type.Pretty obvious that the dike came after the rocks it cuts through, right?
What’s more, if the whole rock is badly weathered, it will be hard to find an intact mineral grain containing radioactive isotopes.Yet, you’ve heard the news: Earth is 4.6 billion years old. That corn cob found in an ancient Native American fire pit is 1,000 years old. Geologic age dating—assigning an age to materials—is an entire discipline of its own.In a way this field, called geochronology, is some of the purest detective work earth scientists do.Geologists draw on it and other basic principles ( to determine the relative ages of rocks or features such as faults.Relative age dating also means paying attention to crosscutting relationships.