Fossil dating method

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Sometimes correlative dating is preferred over absolute dating, particularly with microfossils because the methods for absolute dating would destroy the fossil specimen.

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Radioactive atoms are inherently unstable; over time, radioactive "parent atoms" decay into stable "daughter atoms." When molten rock cools, forming what are called igneous rocks, radioactive atoms are trapped inside. By measuring the quantity of unstable atoms left in a rock and comparing it to the quantity of stable daughter atoms in the rock, scientists can estimate the amount of time that has passed since that rock formed.

So in order to date most older fossils, scientists look for layers of igneous rock or volcanic ash above and below the fossil.

Scientists date igneous rock using elements that are slow to decay, such as uranium and potassium.

Fossils are generally found in sedimentary rock — not igneous rock.

Sedimentary rocks can be dated using radioactive carbon, but because carbon decays relatively quickly, this only works for rocks younger than about 50 thousand years.

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