For example, based on the primate fossil record, scientists know that living primates evolved from fossil primates and that this evolutionary history took tens of millions of years.
By comparing fossils of different primate species, scientists can examine how features changed and how primates evolved through time.
Different methods have their own limitations, especially with regard to the age range they can measure and the substances they can date.
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 is because new sediments are always laid down on top of sediments that have already been deposited.
So, when looking at the history of a cliff face, it is important to read the story it tells from the bottom layer up.
These changes typically occur so slowly that they are barely detectable over the span of a human life, yet even at this instant, the Earth's surface is moving and changing.
Unfortunately, these elements don't exist in dinosaur fossils themselves.Instead, other methods are used to work out a fossil’s age.These include radiometric dating of volcanic layers above or below the fossils or by comparisons to similar rocks and fossils of known ages.Each of them typically exists in igneous rock, or rock made from cooled magma.Fossils, however, form in sedimentary rock -- sediment quickly covers a dinosaur's body, and the sediment and the bones gradually turn into rock.This problem is now reduced by the careful collection of samples, rigorous crosschecking and the use of newer techniques that can date minute samples.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.Despite seeming like a relatively stable place, the Earth's surface has changed dramatically over the past 4.6 billion years.Mountains have been built and eroded, continents and oceans have moved great distances, and the Earth has fluctuated from being extremely cold and almost completely covered with ice to being very warm and ice-free.Sometimes, scientists already know the age of the fossil because fossils of the same species have been found elsewhere and it has been possible to establish accurately from those when the dinosaur lived.Geologists call this the principle of lateral continuity.