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Acheulean stone tools, named after the site of St Acheul in France where they were first found, became finer and more sophisticated over time.These tools range from 1.75 million years old (far left) to 0.85 million years old (far right).Potassium-40 is an isotope with a half-life of 1.28 billion years that decays into argon-40.Traditionally scientists compared the ratio of argon and potassium but samples had to be split to measure each, increasing the chance of an error.This produces radiation and is particularly prominent with larger atoms that are easily able to fall apart spontaneously, leading to new elements or a lighter form of the original element.The time it takes for half of the atoms of an element in a sample to decay is known has its half-life.This neutron addition or subtraction can also make the isotope unstable.If this is the case, a proton or a neutron can be released as the atom rearranges itself into a more stable isotope.
They work by analysing the activity of elements and their decay over time.
Any formations and fossils found within the middle layer are then, in theory, is younger than the layer below and older than the layer above.
Biostratigraphy takes this one step further, analysing the fossils found within each layer.
Looking at the type of rock or organisms found within a formation is not the only way a relative age can be deduced.
The earth’s magnetic field is also used in palaeomagnetic stratigraphy. As hot rock pours onto the Earth’s surface or underwater, iron minerals align with the Earth’s magnetic field at the time. According to NASA, the Earth’s magnetic field has reversed on average once every 250,000 years over the past 20 million years.
Comparing data on known alignments from other sites with newly found formations can give an indication of a rock’s age.