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Relative dating of a fossil

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This is because new sediments are always laid down on top of sediments that have already been deposited.

So, when looking at the history of a cliff face, it is important to read the story it tells from the bottom layer up.

Sometimes, scientists already know the age of the fossil because fossils of the same species have been found elsewhere and it has been possible to establish accurately from those when the dinosaur lived.

Geologists call this the principle of lateral continuity.

Unlike people, you can’t really guess the age of a rock from looking at it.

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.

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.

But sometimes, a scientist finds a couple of rock outcrops that are separated by a wide distance.

We talked about relative dating of rocks and how scientists use stratigraphic succession to compare the ages of different rock layers.

You should already understand that the lower rock strata are generally older than the strata found higher up in the rock.

A fossil will always be younger than fossils in the beds beneath it and this is called the principle of superposition.

In an undisturbed sequence of rocks, such as in a cliff face, it is easy to get a rough idea of the ages of the individual strata – the oldest lies at the bottom and the youngest lies at the top.