Geologists often need to know the age of material that they find. They use absolute dating methods, sometimes called numerical dating, to give rocks an actual date, or date range, in number of years. This is different to relative dating, which only puts geological events in time order. Most absolute dates for rocks are obtained with radiometric methods. These use radioactive minerals in rocks as geological clocks.
Methods of Geological Dating: Numerical and Relative Dating
The most obvious feature of sedimentary rock is its layering. This feature is produced by changes in deposition over time. With this in mind geologist have long known that the deeper a sedimentary rock layer is the older it is, but how old? Although there might be some mineral differences due to the difference in source rock, most sedimentary rock deposited year after year look very similar to one another. This means that a quartz sandstone deposited million years ago will look very similar to a quartz sandstone deposited 50 years ago.
The simplest and most intuitive way of dating geological features is to look at the relationships between them. For example, the principle of superposition states that sedimentary layers are deposited in sequence, and, unless the entire sequence has been turned over by tectonic processes or disrupted by faulting, the layers at the bottom are older than those at the top. The principle of inclusions states that any rock fragments that are included in rock must be older than the rock in which they are included. For example, a xenolith in an igneous rock or a clast in sedimentary rock must be older than the rock that includes it Figure 8.