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There are two main methods determining a fossils age, relative dating and absolute dating.Relative dating is used to determine a fossils approximate age by comparing it to similar rocks and fossils of known ages.We define the rate of this radioactive decay in half-lives.

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Learn about different types of radiometric dating, such as carbon dating.

Understand how decay and half life work to enable radiometric dating.

The same rock formation also contains a type of trilobite that was known to live 415 to 425 million years ago.

Since the rock formation contains both types of fossils the ago of the rock formation must be in the overlapping date range of 415 to 420 million years.

Carbon-14, the radioactive isotope of carbon used in carbon dating has a half-life of 5730 years, so it decays too fast.

It can only be used to date fossils younger than about 75,000 years.

Typically commonly occurring fossils that had a widespread geographic distribution such as brachiopods, trilobites, and ammonites work best as index fossils.

If the fossil you are trying to date occurs alongside one of these index fossils, then the fossil you are dating must fall into the age range of the index fossil. In a hypothetical example, a rock formation contains fossils of a type of brachiopod known to occur between 410 and 420 million years.

These isotopes break down at a constant rate over time through radioactive decay.

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