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Typically commonly occurring fossils that had a widespread geographic distribution such as brachiopods, trilobites, and ammonites work best as index fossils.
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.
Using relative dating the fossil is compared to something for which an age is already known.
For example if you have a fossil trilobite and it was found in the Wheeler Formation.
The method of reading the order is called stratigraphy (layers of rock are called strata).
Relative dating does not provide actual numerical dates for the rocks.
The same rock formation also contains a type of trilobite that was known to live 415 to 425 million years ago.
Since the rock formation contains both types of fossils the ago of the rock formation must be in the overlapping date range of 415 to 420 million years.
The atoms in some chemical elements have different forms, called isotopes.
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