Relative dating - Wikipedia
Before the advent of absolute dating methods, nearly all dating was relative. .. Scientific dating techniques have had a huge impact on archaeology. . That way, dates reported in magazine articles and books do not have to be adjusted as. Dating methods can be split into two broad types: absolute and relative dating. Absolute dating methods provide an actual date for the fossil. Relative dating only. Unlike observation-based relative dating, most absolute methods [This article originally appeared in print as "Scientific Dating Methods."].
The good dates are confirmed using at least two different methods, ideally involving multiple independent labs for each method to cross-check results. Sometimes only one method is possible, reducing the confidence researchers have in the results. Methods fall into one of two categories: These methods — some of which are still used today — provide only an approximate spot within a previously established sequence: Think of it as ordering rather than dating.
One of the first and most basic scientific dating methods is also one of the easiest to understand.
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Paleontologists still commonly use biostratigraphy to date fossils, often in combination with paleomagnetism and tephrochronology. A submethod within biostratigraphy is faunal association: Sometimes researchers can determine a rough age for a fossil based on established ages of other fauna from the same layer — especially microfauna, which evolve faster, creating shorter spans in the fossil record for each species. The polarity is recorded by the orientation of magnetic crystals in specific kinds of rock, and researchers have established a timeline of normal and reversed periods of polarity.
Paleomagnetism is often used as a rough check of results from another dating method. Within hours or days of a volcanic eruption, tephra — fragments of rock and other material hurled into the atmosphere by the event — is deposited in a single layer with a unique geochemical fingerprint.
Researchers can first apply an absolute dating method to the layer.
They then use that absolute date to establish a relative age for fossils and artifacts in relation to that layer. Anything below the Taupo tephra is earlier than ; anything above it is later. This may form a D-amino acid instead of an L—amino acid.
The rate at which the reaction occurs is different for each amino acid; in addition, it depends upon the moisture, temperatureand pH of the postmortem conditions. The higher the temperature, the faster the reaction occurs, so the cooler the burial environment, the greater the dating range.
The burial conditions are not always known, however, and can be difficult to estimate. For this reason, and because some of the amino acid racimization dates have disagreed with dates achieved by other methods, the technique is no longer widely used.
Cation-ratio dating is used to date rock surfaces such as stone artifacts and cliff and ground drawings. It can be used to obtain dates that would be unobtainable by more conventional methods such as radiocarbon dating. Scientists use cation-ratio dating to determine how long rock surfaces have been exposed.
They do this by chemically analyzing the varnish that forms on these surfaces.
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The varnish contains cations, which are positively charged atoms or molecules. Different cations move throughout the environment at different rates, so the ratio of different cations to each other changes over time. By calibrating these ratios with dates obtained from rocks from a similar microenvironment, a minimum age for the varnish can be determined.
This technique can only be applied to rocks from desert areas, where the varnish is most stable. Although cation-ratio dating has been widely used, recent studies suggest it has potential errors. Many of the dates obtained with this method are inaccurate due to improper chemical analyses.
In addition, the varnish may not actually be stable over long periods of time.
Thermoluminescence dating is very useful for determining the age of pottery. Electrons from quartz and other minerals in the pottery clay are bumped out of their normal positions ground state when the clay is exposed to radiation.
This radiation may come from radioactive substances such as uranium, present in the clay or burial medium, or from cosmic radiation.
The longer the radiation exposure, the more electrons get bumped into an excited state. With more electrons in an excited state, more light is emitted upon heating. The process of displacing electrons begins again after the object cools. Scientists can determine how many years have passed since a ceramic was fired by heating it in the laboratory and measuring how much light is given off. Thermoluminescence dating has the advantage of covering the time interval between radiocarbon and potassium-argon datingor 40,—, years.
In addition, it can be used to date materials that cannot be dated with these other two methods. Optically stimulated luminescence OSL has only been used since It is very similar to thermoluminescence dating, both of which are considered "clock setting" techniques.
Minerals found in sediments are sensitive to light.
Electrons found in the sediment grains leave the ground state when exposed to light, called recombination. To determine the age of sediment, scientists expose grains to a known amount of light and compare these grains with the unknown sediment. This technique can be used to determine the age of unheated sediments less thanyears old. A disadvantage to this technique is that in order to get accurate results, the sediment to be tested cannot be exposed to light which would reset the "clock"making sampling difficult.
The absolute dating method utilizing tree ring growth is known as dendrochronology.
It is based on the fact that trees produce one growth ring each year. The rings form a distinctive pattern, which is the same for all members in a given species and geographical area. The patterns from trees of different ages including ancient wood are overlapped, forming a master pattern that can be used to date timbers thousands of years old with a resolution of one year.
Timbers can be used to date buildings and archaeological sites. In addition, tree rings are used to date changes in the climate such as sudden cool or dry periods. Dendrochronology has a range of one to 10, years or more. As previously mentioned, radioactive decay refers to the process in which a radioactive form of an element is converted into a decay product at a regular rate. Radioactive decay dating is not a single method of absolute dating but instead a group of related methods for absolute dating of samples.
Potassium-argon dating relies on the fact that when volcanic rocks are heated to extremely high temperatures, they release any argon gas trapped in them.
As the rocks cool, argon 40Ar begins to accumulate. Argon is formed in the rocks by the radioactive decay of potassium 40K. The amount of 40Ar formed is proportional to the decay rate half-life of 40K, which is 1.
In other words, it takes 1. This method is generally only applicable to rocks greater than three million years old, although with sensitive instruments, rocks several hundred thousand years old may be dated.
The reason such old material is required is that it takes a very long time to accumulate enough 40Ar to be measured accurately.
Potassium-argon dating has been used to date volcanic layers above and below fossils and artifacts in east Africa. Radiocarbon dating is used to date charcoal, wood, and other biological materials. The range of conventional radiocarbon dating is 30,—40, years, but with sensitive instrumentation, this range can be extended to 70, years. Radiocarbon 14C is a radioactive form of the element carbon. Geology[ edit ] The regular order of the occurrence of fossils in rock layers was discovered around by William Smith.
While digging the Somerset Coal Canal in southwest England, he found that fossils were always in the same order in the rock layers. As he continued his job as a surveyorhe found the same patterns across England. He also found that certain animals were in only certain layers and that they were in the same layers all across England.
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Due to that discovery, Smith was able to recognize the order that the rocks were formed. Sixteen years after his discovery, he published a geological map of England showing the rocks of different geologic time eras.
Principles of relative dating[ edit ] Methods for relative dating were developed when geology first emerged as a natural science in the 18th century. Geologists still use the following principles today as a means to provide information about geologic history and the timing of geologic events. Uniformitarianism[ edit ] The principle of Uniformitarianism states that the geologic processes observed in operation that modify the Earth's crust at present have worked in much the same way over geologic time.
In geology, when an igneous intrusion cuts across a formation of sedimentary rockit can be determined that the igneous intrusion is younger than the sedimentary rock.
There are a number of different types of intrusions, including stocks, laccolithsbatholithssills and dikes. Cross-cutting relationships[ edit ] Cross-cutting relations can be used to determine the relative ages of rock strata and other geological structures. The principle of cross-cutting relationships pertains to the formation of faults and the age of the sequences through which they cut.
Faults are younger than the rocks they cut; accordingly, if a fault is found that penetrates some formations but not those on top of it, then the formations that were cut are older than the fault, and the ones that are not cut must be younger than the fault.
Finding the key bed in these situations may help determine whether the fault is a normal fault or a thrust fault. For example, in sedimentary rocks, it is common for gravel from an older formation to be ripped up and included in a newer layer. A similar situation with igneous rocks occurs when xenoliths are found.
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These foreign bodies are picked up as magma or lava flows, and are incorporated, later to cool in the matrix. As a result, xenoliths are older than the rock which contains them.
Original horizontality[ edit ] The principle of original horizontality states that the deposition of sediments occurs as essentially horizontal beds.