Ways of dating fossils
Today, scientists use a variety of techniques to date rocks and fossils precisely.Most often, they measure the amounts of particular radioactive elements—often radiocarbon or potassium—present to determine when a rock was formed, or when an animal or plant died.By looking at the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 in the sample and comparing it to the ratio in a living organism, it is possible to determine the age of a formerly living thing fairly precisely. So, if you had a fossil that had 10 percent carbon-14 compared to a living sample, then that fossil would be: t = [ ln (0.10) / (-0.693) ] x 5,700 years t = [ (-2.303) / (-0.693) ] x 5,700 years t = [ 3.323 ] x 5,700 years Because the half-life of carbon-14 is 5,700 years, it is only reliable for dating objects up to about 60,000 years old.However, the principle of carbon-14 dating applies to other isotopes as well.As sediments carried by wind and water accumulate, they bury older layers—so the bottom layers in a geological sequence are usually the oldest and the top layers the youngest.Paleontologists can thus put fossils in chronological order without knowing the actual age of each specimen.Some techniques work best with materials millions or even billions of years old. And each method only works for certain materials, ranging from volcanic rock to charcoal to bone.
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