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It’s based either on fossils which are recognized to represent a particular interval of time, or on radioactive decay of specific isotopes. Based on the Rule of Superposition, certain organisms clearly lived before others, during certain geologic times.
Before absolute dating of rocks was developed in the 20th century, geologists had to rely on relative age dating, which places geologic events in their order of occurrence.
Here is an easy-to understand analogy for your students: relative age dating is like saying that your grandfather is older than you.
Absolute age dating is like saying you are 15 years old and your grandfather is 77 years old.
What’s more, if the whole rock is badly weathered, it will be hard to find an intact mineral grain containing radioactive isotopes.
You might have noticed that many of the oldest age dates come from a mineral called zircon.