Relative dating principles include

The principle of cross-cutting states that any geologic feature that crosses other layers or rock must be younger then the material it cuts across.

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Using this principle any fault or igneous intrusion must be younger than all material it or layers it crosses. Once a rock is lithified no other material can be incorporated within its internal structure.


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In order for any material to be included within in the rock it must have been present at the time the rock was lithified. For example, in order to get a pebble inside an igneous rock it must be incorporated when the igneous rock is still molten-- such as when lava flows over the surface. Therefore, the piece, or inclusion, must be older than the material it is included in.

Lastly the Principle of Fossil Succession. Aside from single-celled bacteria, most living organism reside at or very near the Earth's surface either in continental or oceanic environments. In fact, we can put together a timeline. The shales were deposited first, in a horizontal position, and then there was an earthquake that made them all fold up. Then, the tops were eroded off until the rock was basically flat, and then the sandstones were deposited on top of everything else.

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With only a few geologic principles, we've established the relative dates of all the phenomena we see in the Great Unconformity. Geologists establish the relative ages of rocks mostly through their understanding of stratigraphic succession. The Principle of Original Horizontality states that all rock layers were originally horizontal.


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  • The Law of Superposition states that younger strata lie on top of older strata. The Principle of Cross-Cutting Relationships states that intrusions and faults that cut across rock are necessarily younger than that rock. Inclusions , or foreign bodies, found inside rock are necessarily older than that rock. And, unconformities show a discontinuity in the strata, which can only be understood by following the principles of stratigraphy.

    Geologists utilize all of these laws and principles to establish the relative ages of rocks and the relationships between events that occurred throughout geologic time. To unlock this lesson you must be a Study. Did you know… We have over college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1, colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level. To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page. Not sure what college you want to attend yet?

    The videos on Study. Students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. Explore over 4, video courses. Find a degree that fits your goals. What is Relative Dating?

    Learn how inclusions and unconformities can tell us stories about the geologic past. We'll even visit the Grand Canyon to solve the mystery of the Great Unconformity! Try it risk-free for 30 days. An error occurred trying to load this video. Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support. Register to view this lesson Are you a student or a teacher? I am a student I am a teacher. What teachers are saying about Study. Principles of Radiometric Dating.

    Are you still watching? Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds. Add to Add to Add to. Want to watch this again later? Relative Dating with Fossils: Index Fossils as Indicators of Time. Numerical and Relative Geological Dating. Methods of Geological Dating: Numerical and Relative Dating. What is Relative Age? How to Interpret Events from Natural Phenomena.

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    Discover how geologists study the layers in sedimentary rock to establish relative age. Now imagine that you come upon a formation like this: Example of a rock layer that is not smooth or parallel What do you think of it? Original Horizontality In order to establish relative dates, geologists must make an initial assumption about the way rock strata are formed.

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    Law of Superposition Once we assume that all rock layers were originally horizontal, we can make another assumption: Let's look at these rock strata here: Relative dating not only determines which layers are older or younger, but also gives insight into the paleoenvironments that formed the particular sequence of rock. Nicolas Steno dissected the head of this shark and realized fossil tongue stones believed to be petrified snake or dragon tongues were actually fossil shark teeth Prothero , p. One problem still existed, how do fossils become embedded in solid rock?

    Steno recognized that fossils represent organisms that became buried in sediment, which later turned into rock.

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    Relative dating

    The realization that sediments turn into rock was counter to the view that all rocks on Earth formed in a single creation event. Once Steno recognized that the fossils he was contemplating sharks teeth and sea shells were formed in the sediments of oceans he was able to work out the basic rules of stratigraphy.

    Steno formalized the laws of superposition, original horizontality, original continuity and inclusions in his publication entitled De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus Prothero , p. The principle of superposition states that in an undisturbed sequence of strata or lava flows; each layer is older than the one above and younger than the one below.

    The law of original horizontality states that sedimentary strata and lava flows are deposited in horizontal sheets. If these layers are not horizontal, subsequent movements have occurred.


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    The law of lateral continuity states that strata and lava flows extend laterally in all directions and pinch out at the edge of their deposition. Inclusions are rock fragments or fossils contained in another rock type. The principle of inclusions states that any inclusion is older than the rock that contains it. Steno's idea that fossils are older than the rock in which they are found hints at this principle, but Hutton is most often given credit for this principle. Steno developed these principles in the context water deposited sediment.