2Interpreting Fossil Evidence The natural forces that form sedimentary rock can also reveal fossils that have been hidden in layers of rock for millions of years.As forces within the earth uplift rock and weathering forces wear away rock, fossils become exposed.Remember: A fossil is evidence (remains or traces) of an organism that once lived.A paleontologist is a scientist that studies fossils and the environments in which the organism lived.Scientists try to determine its age and anatomical similarities and differences to living organisms.
3Relative DatingLaw of Superposition – newer layers of rock/soil are on top of older layers. The lowest layer is the oldest, the top most layer, the most recent (youngest). These are called “strata”.Stratification: enables a scientist to establish the “relative age” of something based on where it is found compared to other layers.Relative Dating – estimating the age of a fossil by comparing its placement with that of fossils in other layers of rock to “determine the sequence in which events occurred, not how long ago they occurred.”Problem: This dating provides no information of absolute age or age in years.Question: Where will the oldest fossils be located? On the top or on the bottom?
4Using Fossils to Date Rocks The principle of Fossil succession states that fossil organisms succeed one another in a definite and determinable order. Therefore, any time period can be recognized by its fossil content.Index Fossils – fossils of organisms that lived during a relatively short, well-defined time period.Ammonites (mollusks) MYATrilobites (similar to horseshoe crab) 400 MYA
5Radioactive DatingDetermining the approximate age of fossils in order to determine the organisms and absolute dates they were living. This is often called Radiometric Dating.Atomic Number – protons in nucleus (corresponding electrons)All atoms of an element have the same atomic number, but the number of neutrons can vary. When they vary, the atom is called an “isotope”.Radioactive Dating – calculate the age of a sample based on the amount of remaining radioactive isotope it contains.Half-life: The length of time required for half of the radioactive atoms in a sample to decay.For Rocks, there is Potassium-Argon or Uranium-Lead dating.
6Specimen DatingAll living things contain Carbon-14, a radioactive isotope of Carbon-12. So for once living organisms, (versus rocks) we use Carbon Dating.Because it is unstable, it wants to shed the extra neutrons to stabilize.This is called “radioactive decay”, and by studying it, we can determine the how many thousands of years ago something was once living.For instance, when an organism dies, the C-12 stays constant, but the isotope, C-14, decays.(Carbon-14 half life is 5,730 years)Carbon dating is really only good until about 60,000 yrs old because then there is not enough C-14 to get a good reading.Isotopes decay at constant rates.A half-life is the amount of time it takes for an unstable isotope to decay to one-half its original amount.Radiometric data allows scientists to then calculate the age of a specimen.
7Your Turn!Half-life of Carbon-14: 5,730 years Uranium-238: 4,500,000,000 years1. You have 16 grams of an isotope with a known half life of 20 years. How much would we have in 80 years?2. If we found in a specimen that had 75% degraded Carbon-14 (with only 25% left) then how old is this specimen?3. Why is there controversy over the disposal of nuclear waste (U-238)? Why do we need to be concerned? (Think about the duration of its half -life!)