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Metamorphic rocks may also be radiometrically dated.
However, radiometric dating generally yields the age of metamorphism, not the age of the original rock.
Gaps in the geologic record, called unconformities, are common where deposition stopped and erosion removed the previously deposited material.
Fortunately, distinctive features such as index fossils can aid in matching, or correlating, rocks and formations from several incomplete areas to create a more complete geologic record for relative dating.
The nuclear decay of radioactive isotopes is a process that behaves in a clock-like fashion and is thus a useful tool for determining the absolute age of rocks.
Radioactive decay is the process by which a “parent” isotope changes into a “daughter” isotope.
Geologists generally know the age of a rock by determining the age of the group of rocks, or formation, that it is found in.
Following this law, sedimentary rocks can be “dated” by their characteristic fossil content.
Simply stated, each bed in a sequence of sedimentary rocks (or layered volcanic rocks) is younger than the bed below it and older than the bed above it.
This law follows two basic assumptions: (1) the beds were originally deposited near horizontal, and (2) the beds were not overturned after their deposition.
Absolute dating places events or rocks at a specific time.
If a geologist claims to be younger than his or her co-worker, that is a relative age.
Particularly useful are index fossils, geographically widespread fossils that evolved rapidly through time.