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Radiometric dating age of fossils

Look for “absolute” ages such as cornerstones, dates carved into fresh concrete, or dates stamped on manhole covers.

Absolute age dating: Have students work alone or in pairs to find an article or paper that uses radiometric age dating.

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?

Like the other kind of dating, geologic dating isn’t always simple.

Activity: Further discussion: Good overview as relates to the Grand Canyon: age dating: Use with this cross section of the Grand Canyon from the USGS’s teaching page: Canyon Have students reconstruct a simple geologic history — which are the oldest rocks shown? Are there any that you can’t tell using the Rule of Superposition?

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You might have noticed that many of the oldest age dates come from a mineral called zircon.

It’s based either on fossils which are recognized to represent a particular interval of time, or on radioactive decay of specific isotopes. Based on the Rule of Superposition, certain organisms clearly lived before others, during certain geologic times.

After all, a dinosaur wouldn’t be caught dead next to a trilobite.

On the other hand, the half-life of the isotope potassium 40 as it decays to argon is 1.26 billion years.

So carbon 14 is used to date materials that aren’t that old geologically, say in the tens of thousands of years, while potassium-argon dating can be used to determine the ages of much older materials, in the millions and billions year range.

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