This uses radioactive minerals that occur in rocks and fossils almost like a geological clock.
It’s often much easier to date volcanic rocks than the fossils themselves or the sedimentary rocks they are found in.
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.
Dinosaur bones, on the other hand, are millions of years old -- some fossils are billions of years old.
To determine the ages of these specimens, scientists need an isotope with a very long half-life.
Scientists can use certain types of fossils referred to as index fossils to assist in relative dating via correlation.
Index fossils are fossils that are known to only occur within a very specific age range.
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.
Each of them typically exists in igneous rock, or rock made from cooled magma.
Fossils, however, form in sedimentary rock -- sediment quickly covers a dinosaur's body, and the sediment and the bones gradually turn into rock.
These isotopes break down at a constant rate over time through radioactive decay.
By measuring the ratio of the amount of the original (parent) isotope to the amount of the (daughter) isotopes that it breaks down into an age can be determined.