Principles of relative age dating
These items are called inclusions - foreign bodies of rock or mineral enclosed within another rock.Because the sedimentary rock had to have formed around the object for it to be encased within the layers, geologists can establish relative dates between the inclusions and the surrounding rock.Once we assume that all rock layers were originally horizontal, we can make another assumption: that the oldest rock layers are furthest toward the bottom, and the youngest rock layers are closest to the top. The forest layer is younger than the mud layer, right? When scientists look at sedimentary rock strata, they essentially see a timeline stretching backwards through history.The highest layers tell them what happened more recently, and the lowest layers tell them what happened longer ago.What could a geologist say about that section of rock?
Now imagine that you come upon a formation like this: What do you think of it? How can you make any conclusions about rock layers that make such a crazy arrangement?
Since we assume all the layers were originally horizontal, then anything that made them not horizontal had to have happened after the fact.
We follow this same idea, with a few variations, when we talk about cross-cutting relationships in rock.
Let's say we find out, through numerical dating, that the rock layer shown above is 70 million years old.
We're not so sure about the next layer down, but the one below it is 100 million years old. Not exactly, but we do know that it's somewhere between 70 and 100 million years old.
Geologists find the cross-cutting principle especially useful for establishing the relative ages of faults and igneous intrusions in sedimentary rocks.