During this process the pieces of the atom move apart at high speed, causing damage to the rock or mineral.

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Instead, other methods are used to work out a fossil’s age.

Volcanic rocks – such as tuff and basalt – can be used in dating because they are formed at a particular moment in time, during an eruption.

Sedimentary rocks are rarely useful for dating because they are made up of bits of older rocks.

These include radiometric dating of volcanic layers above or below the fossils or by comparisons to similar rocks and fossils of known ages.

Knowing when a dinosaur or other animal lived is important because it helps us place them on the evolutionary family tree.

A common problem with any dating method is that a sample may be contaminated with older or younger material and give a false age.

This problem is now reduced by the careful collection of samples, rigorous crosschecking and the use of newer techniques that can date minute samples.

When volcanic rocks and minerals are formed, they do not contain fission tracks.

Accurate dates also allow us to create sequences of evolutionary change and work out when species appeared or became extinct. These are: Where possible, several different methods are used and each method is repeated to confirm the results obtained and improve accuracy.

Different methods have their own limitations, especially with regard to the age range they can measure and the substances they can date.