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Free 5-day trial Geologic time extends back 4.6 billion years.
It is unusual for complete organisms to be preserved.
Fossils usually represent the hard parts, such as bones or shells of animals and leaves, seeds, or woody parts of plants.
Through paleontology (the scientific study of fossils), it is possible to reconstruct ancient communities of living organisms and to trace the evolution of species.
Say for example that a volcanic dike, or a fault, cuts across several sedimentary layers, or maybe through another volcanic rock type.
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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.
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Because the earth is so old and rocks formed millions of years ago, geologists needed a way to date rocks and rock units called strata.