What is the process of relative dating

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  1. Relative Dating
  2. Relative Dating: Applications and Important Techniques Explained
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  4. Relative Dating: Applications and Important Techniques Explained

If an animal fossil is found, and the time during which it lived is known, it helps us understand the time period of any other fossil found in the same strata. Animals evolve rapidly, and these evolution's are reflected by the variations in their bones or teeth. When they die, their remains get fossilized and are used by scientists to determine the era in which they lived. These fossils are then used as standards to determine the age of other fossils. They are called 'Index fossils'.

An example can be fossils of some species of monkeys found alongside fossils of human species. This technique of relative dating mainly works on the principle of chemical changes taking place in the fossils. When remains of living beings get buried into sediments and turn to fossils, the bacteria present in the soil breakdown the proteins and fats from the bones.

Relative Dating

Most of the nitrogen contained in these fossils gets depleted progressively. Ground water percolates into these rocks and deposits its component elements such as fluorine, uranium, etc. The amount of fluorine in the fossils thus increases. If two fossils belong to the same strata, then they are assumed to have the same amount of nitrogen and fluorine.

In case of a difference in the fluorine content, they are considered to be from different eras. Relative Dating Technique in Anthropology. Anthropology is the study of humans in all eras.

It is an in-depth analysis in all the possible ways, taking into account all the related complexities. In anthropology, the study of humans living in the prehistoric era is done by collecting the data of human fossils found during excavations or research. Most of the soft tissues of the human body get decomposed with only the hard tissues left for research. These hard tissues include the teeth and the bones. This technique begins with the identification of the bones.


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If the skull is found, then the technique proceeds with recording its dimensions. Further on, this data is compared with the standard data to establish the age of the fossil. Relative Dating Techniques in Archeology. Archeology refers to the study of history of mankind by excavating ancient sites. The methods used for relative dating in archeology are similar to the ones used in geology. The term used for the relative dating technique in archeology is 'Typology'. This method is mainly used for dating the sites and objects which have archeological importance.


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  • It refers to categorization of objects based on their physical features. The result is expressed in terms of classes, which are also termed as types. Objects having similar features are classified under one category. Likewise, dissimilar objects are classified under another. This method helps the researchers estimate the time period during which the site existed or a particular object was used.

    Relative Dating: Applications and Important Techniques Explained

    This method is mainly used for establishing the chronological sequence in which certain artifacts existed. This technique makes it possible to understand the changes that have been modified over time. Seriation is further classified into evolutionary seriation, frequency seriation, contextual seriation to list a few. Man-made objects or artifacts are used for relative dating. They can also be called diagnostic objects because of the fact that they indicate a time period during which they were developed and used. Many artifacts such as ceramics, vessels, or bottles used in the prehistoric era are discovered at excavation sites.

    From the make of these artifacts, it is possible to identify the time period during which they were made. Calibrated Relative Dating Techniques. Proteins are a vital nutrient in living beings. Their physical structure depends on proteins. These proteins are in turn composed of amino acids.

    Proteins termed as enantiomers are either D-right or L-left which indicates that they are rotating in either left or right direction. After the living creature dies, the L form of acids convert to the D form. This process is called racemization.

    In order to understand the time at which the creature died, it is necessary to determine the racemization rate. This method depends on various factors such as the temperature, pressure, composition of amino acids, amount of water, to list a few. Though relative dating can only determine the sequential order in which a series of events occurred, not when they occurred, it remains a useful technique. Relative dating by biostratigraphy is the preferred method in paleontology and is, in some respects, more accurate. 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 surveyor , he 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. Due to that discovery, Smith was able to recognize the order that the rocks were formed.

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    Sixteen years after his discovery, he published a geological map of England showing the rocks of different geologic time eras. 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.

    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. The principle of intrusive relationships concerns crosscutting intrusions. In geology, when an igneous intrusion cuts across a formation of sedimentary rock , it can be determined that the igneous intrusion is younger than the sedimentary rock.

    Relative Dating: Applications and Important Techniques Explained

    There are a number of different types of intrusions, including stocks, laccoliths , batholiths , sills and dikes. 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. The principle of inclusions and components explains that, with sedimentary rocks, if inclusions or clasts are found in a formation, then the inclusions must be older than the formation that contains them. 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. 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. The principle of original horizontality states that the deposition of sediments occurs as essentially horizontal beds. Observation of modern marine and non-marine sediments in a wide variety of environments supports this generalization although cross-bedding is inclined, the overall orientation of cross-bedded units is horizontal.

    The law of superposition states that a sedimentary rock layer in a tectonically undisturbed sequence is younger than the one beneath it and older than the one above it. This is because it is not possible for a younger layer to slip beneath a layer previously deposited.


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    This principle allows sedimentary layers to be viewed as a form of vertical time line, a partial or complete record of the time elapsed from deposition of the lowest layer to deposition of the highest bed. The principle of faunal succession is based on the appearance of fossils in sedimentary rocks. As organisms exist at the same time period throughout the world, their presence or sometimes absence may be used to provide a relative age of the formations in which they are found.

    Based on principles laid out by William Smith almost a hundred years before the publication of Charles Darwin 's theory of evolution , the principles of succession were developed independently of evolutionary thought. The principle becomes quite complex, however, given the uncertainties of fossilization, the localization of fossil types due to lateral changes in habitat facies change in sedimentary strata , and that not all fossils may be found globally at the same time.

    The principle of lateral continuity states that layers of sediment initially extend laterally in all directions; in other words, they are laterally continuous. As a result, rocks that are otherwise similar, but are now separated by a valley or other erosional feature, can be assumed to be originally continuous.