Here is an easy-to understand analogy for your students: relative age dating is like saying that your grandfather is older than you.Absolute age dating is like saying you are 15 years old and your grandfather is 77 years old.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.
No bones about it, fossils are important age markers.Unlike people, you can’t really guess the age of a rock from looking at it.Yet, you’ve heard the news: Earth is 4.6 billion years old. That corn cob found in an ancient Native American fire pit is 1,000 years old. Geologic age dating—assigning an age to materials—is an entire discipline of its own.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.Time factors of millions and billions of years is difficult even for adults to comprehend.However, "relative" dating or time can be an easy concept for students to learn.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.Relative age dating also means paying attention to crosscutting relationships.Say for example that a volcanic dike, or a fault, cuts across several sedimentary layers, or maybe through another volcanic rock type.