Dating fossils methods

Dating Fossils – How Are Fossils Dated?

The first radiometric dates, generated about , showed that the Earth was hundreds of millions, or billions, of years old. Since then, geologists have made many tens of thousands of radiometric age determinations, and they have refined the earlier estimates. Age estimates can be cross-tested by using different isotope pairs. Results from different techniques, often measured in rival labs, continually confirm each other.

Every few years, new geologic time scales are published, providing the latest dates for major time lines. Older dates may change by a few million years up and down, but younger dates are stable. For example, it has been known since the s that the famous Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, the line marking the end of the dinosaurs, was 65 million years old.

Repeated recalibrations and retests, using ever more sophisticated techniques and equipment, cannot shift that date. It is accurate to within a few thousand years. The fossil record is fundamental to an understanding of evolution.

Fossils document the order of appearance of groups and they tell us about some of the amazing plants and animals that died out long ago. Fossils can also show us how major crises, such as mass extinctions, happened, and how life recovered after them. If the fossils, or the dating of the fossils, could be shown to be inaccurate, all such information would have to be rejected as unsafe.

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Geologists and paleontologists are highly self-critical, and they have worried for decades about these issues. Repeated, and tough, regimes of testing have confirmed the broad accuracy of the fossils and their dating, so we can read the history of life from the rocks with confidence.

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Educators have permission to reprint articles for classroom use; other users, please contact editor actionbioscience. Currently, he is studying certain basal dinosaurs from the Late Triassic and the quality of different segments of the fossil record. He holds the Chair in Vertebrate Paleontology at the University of Bristol, UK, in addition to chairing the Masters program in paleobiology at the university.

10 Methods Scientists Use to Date Things

Your one-stop source for information on evolution. Michael Benton wrote another article, Evidence of Evolutionary Transitions , for this website which explains how fossils support the stages of evolutionary history. Data bases and software for studying the quality of the fossil record. Michael Benton has written over 30 books on dinosaurs and paleobiology.

Two suggested readings are provided — the first for adults, the second for children:. An online directory of dinosaur exhibits fro around the world.


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Many natural history museums and universities worldwide offer public participation programs in dinosaur events, such as fossil hunting or fossil cataloguing. No experience needed in most cases! The list is too long to mention here, so a couple of examples are provided to get you going on your search for programs in your area:. January Fossils provide a record of the history of life.

Stratigraphy, the study of rock layers, led to paleontology, the study of fossils. Scientists now use phylogeny, mathematics, and other computations to date fossils.

Relative Dating

Older fossils cannot be dated by carbon methods and require radiometric dating. The strict rules of the scientific method ensure the accuracy of fossil dating. Accuracy of Fossils and Dating Methods. Harper, and David Benton. Imagining the Human Future video Public Event: Religious Audiences and the Topic of Evolution: Here of some of the well-tested methods of dating used in the study of early humans: Potassium-argon dating , Argon-argon dating , Carbon or Radiocarbon , and Uranium series.


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  • All of these methods measure the amount of radioactive decay of chemical elements; the decay occurs in a consistent manner, like a clock, over long periods of time. Thermo-luminescence , Optically stimulated luminescence , and Electron spin resonance.

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