Students should be able to understand the principles and have that as a background so that age determinations by paleontologists and geologists don't seem like black magic. Geologists in the late 18th and early 19th century studied rock layers and the fossils in them to determine relative age.
William Smith was one of the most important scientists from this time who helped to develop knowledge of the succession of different fossils by studying their distribution through the sequence of sedimentary rocks in southern England.
For example, which is older, the bricks in a building or the building itself?
Are there repairs or cracks in the sidewalk that came after the sidewalk was built?
That’s because zircon is super tough – it resists weathering. Each radioactive isotope works best for particular applications.
The half-life of carbon 14, for example, is 5,730 years.
Chart of a few different isotope half lifes: In reality, geologists tend to mix and match relative and absolute age dates to piece together a geologic history.
If a rock has been partially melted, or otherwise metamorphosed, that causes complications for radiometric (absolute) age dating as well.
This activity on determining age of rocks and fossils is intended for 8th or 9th grade students.
Pretty obvious that the dike came after the rocks it cuts through, right?
With absolute age dating, you get a real age in actual years.
But the most accurate forms of absolute age dating are radiometric methods. Sedimentary rocks in particular are notoriously radioactive-free zones.
This method works because some unstable (radioactive) isotopes of some elements decay at a known rate into daughter products. Half-life simply means the amount of time it takes for half of a remaining particular isotope to decay to a daughter product. Good discussion from the US Geological Survey: geochronolgists just measure the ratio of the remaining parent atom to the amount of daughter and voila, they know how long the molecule has been hanging out decaying. So to date those, geologists look for layers like volcanic ash that might be sandwiched between the sedimentary layers, and that tend to have radioactive elements.
Here is an easy-to understand analogy for your students: relative age dating is like saying that your grandfather is older than you.