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Just as the use of the fossil record has allowed a precise definition of geologic processes in approximately the past 600 million years, absolute ages allow correlations back to Earth’s oldest known rocks formed more than 4 billion years ago.In fact, even in younger rocks, absolute dating is the only way that the fossil record can be calibrated.Using this established record, geologists have been able to piece together events over the past 635 million years, or about one-eighth of Earth history, during which time useful fossils have been abundant.The need to correlate over the rest of geologic time, to correlate nonfossiliferous units, and to calibrate the fossil time scale has led to the development of a specialized field that makes use of natural radioactive isotopes in order to calculate absolute isotopes has been improved to the point that for rocks 3 billion years old geologically meaningful errors of less than ±1 million years can be obtained.Similarly, in geologic studies, vast quantities of information from widely spaced outcrops have to be integrated.Some method of correlating rock units must be found.
For example, the presence of recycled bricks at an archaeological site indicates the sequence in which the structures were built.
In addition, they have had to develop special techniques with which to dissolve these highly refractory minerals without contaminating the small amount (about one-billionth of a gram) of contained lead and uranium on which the age must be calculated.
Since parent uranium atoms change into daughter atoms with time at a known rate, their relative abundance leads directly to the absolute age of the host mineral.
In the ideal case, the geologist will discover a single rock unit with a unique collection of easily observed attributes called a marker horizon that can be found at widely spaced localities.
Any feature, including colour variations, textures, fossil content, mineralogy, or any unusual combinations of these can be used.
The same margin of error applies for younger fossiliferous rocks, making absolute dating comparable in precision to that attained using fossils.