Sedimentary dating

The heat from a volcanic eruption releases all the argon from the molten rock and disperses it into the atmosphere.Argon then starts to re-accumulate at a constant rate in the newly formed rock that is created after the eruption.This technique is, however, useful for providing relative dates for objects found at the same site.

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In special cases, bones can be compared by measuring chemicals within them.Where the rocks are not strongly folded or tilted it is possible to work out the order in which the layers were formed.The oldest rocks and fossils are at the bottom and the youngest are on top.Instead, other methods are used to work out a fossil’s age.These include radiometric dating of volcanic layers above or below the fossils or by comparisons to similar rocks and fossils of known ages.This problem is now reduced by the careful collection of samples, rigorous crosschecking and the use of newer techniques that can date minute samples.Volcanic rocks – such as tuff and basalt – can be used in dating because they are formed at a particular moment in time, during an eruption.The age of volcanic rocks and ash can be determined by measuring the proportions of argon (in the form of argon-40) and radioactive potassium within them.Each volcanic eruption produces a new deposit of ash and rock.This form of uranium usually decays into a stable lead isotope but the uranium atoms can also split – a process known as fission.During this process the pieces of the atom move apart at high speed, causing damage to the rock or mineral.

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