Scientific definition of relative dating
Since we assume all the layers were originally horizontal, then anything that made them not horizontal had to have happened after the fact.
We follow this same idea, with a few variations, when we talk about cross-cutting relationships in rock.
Let's look at these rock strata here: We have five layers total.
Once we assume that all rock layers were originally horizontal, we can make another assumption: that the oldest rock layers are furthest toward the bottom, and the youngest rock layers are closest to the top. The forest layer is younger than the mud layer, right? When scientists look at sedimentary rock strata, they essentially see a timeline stretching backwards through history.
The highest layers tell them what happened more recently, and the lowest layers tell them what happened longer ago.
Let's say we find out, through numerical dating, that the rock layer shown above is 70 million years old.
We're not so sure about the next layer down, but the one below it is 100 million years old. Not exactly, but we do know that it's somewhere between 70 and 100 million years old.In this lesson, we'll learn a few basic principles of stratigraphic succession and see whether we can find relative dates for those strange strata we found in the Grand Canyon.