Anthropology dating techniques

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Fossils up to about 40,000 years old can be dated using carbon-14 if there is enough organic matter present.

Fossils up to about 40,000 years old can be dated using carbon-14 if there is enough organic matter present.

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To study these resources — and to identify areas and rock layers that are likely to contain them — requires in-depth knowledge of sedimentary rocks and of the fossils contained in them.

Some paleontologists work for the petroleum industry, and use fossils to interpret sequences of sedimentary rocks.

However, many sedimentary rocks cannot be dated directly by these methods; dates usually are obtained from igneous rocks within a sedimentary sequence, such as lava flows or ash beds.

Such dates are maximum age estimates for fossils above the dated beds, or minimum estimates for fossils below the beds.

Paleontologists deal with two types of dating, absolute and relative.

Absolute dating, which estimates the age of a rock or fossil in years, is most usually done by measuring the amounts of a radioactive isotope and its decay product; since isotope decay rates are known to be constant, the age can be calculated from the relative amounts of parent isotope to daughter product.

There are a number of techniques and fields that deal with reconstructing the past, but paleontology provides hard data on past events.

Paleontology can potentially provide much data on the evolutionary relationships of organisms, which in turn gives a deeper understanding of biodiversity.

Fossils that are the most useful for correlation tend to be widespread, found in many rock types, easily recognizable, and short-lived enough to permit precise placement in the geologic column.

Visit the Paleontology is actually one of the few fields of science left in which amateurs can and frequently do make important contributions.


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