Two types of fossil dating
To determine the relative age of different rocks, geologists start with the assumption that unless something has happened, in a sequence of sedimentary rock layers, the newer rock layers will be on top of older ones. This rule is common sense, but it serves as a powerful reference point.
Say for example that a volcanic dike, or a fault, cuts across several sedimentary layers, or maybe through another volcanic rock type.
In a way this field, called geochronology, is some of the purest detective work earth scientists do.
There are two basic approaches: relative age dating, and absolute age dating.
The carbon-14 decays with its half-life of 5,700 years, while the amount of carbon-12 remains constant in the sample.
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.