Dating, in geology, determining a chronology or calendar of events in the history of Earth, using to a large degree the evidence of organic evolution in the sedimentary rocks accumulated through geologic time in marine and continental environments.
To date past events, processes, formations, and fossil organisms, geologists employ a variety of techniques.
Without absolute ages, investigators could only determine which fossil organisms lived at the same time and the relative order of their appearance in the correlated sedimentary rock record.
Long before geologists tried to quantify the age of the Earth they developed techniques to determine which geologic events preceded another, what are termed "relative age” relationships.
These techniques were first articulated by Nicolas Steno, a Dane living in the Medici court of Italy in the 17th C.
In addition, they have had to develop special techniques with which to dissolve these highly refractory minerals without contaminating the small amount (about one-billionth of a gram) of contained lead and uranium on which the age must be calculated.
Since parent uranium atoms change into daughter atoms with time at a known rate, their relative abundance leads directly to the absolute age of the host mineral.
The two approaches are often complementary, as when a sequence of occurrences in one context can be correlated with an absolute chronlogy elsewhere.
Local relationships on a single outcrop or archaeological site can often be interpreted to deduce the sequence in which the materials were assembled.Just as the use of the fossil record has allowed a precise definition of geologic processes in approximately the past 600 million years, absolute ages allow correlations back to Earth’s oldest known rocks formed more than 4 billion years ago.In fact, even in younger rocks, absolute dating is the only way that the fossil record can be calibrated.It is only by correlations that the conditions on different parts of Earth at any particular stage in its history can be deduced.In addition, because sediment deposition is not continuous and much rock material has been removed by erosion, the fossil record from many localities has to be integrated before a complete picture of the evolution of life on Earth can be assembled.This then can be used to deduce the sequence of events and processes that took place or the history of that brief period of time as recorded in the rocks or soil.