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Paleomagnetism: Earth’s magnetic polarity flip-flops about every 100,000 to 600,000 years.
The polarity is recorded by the orientation of magnetic crystals in specific kinds of rock, and researchers have established a timeline of normal and reversed periods of polarity.
The good dates are confirmed using at least two different methods, ideally involving multiple independent labs for each method to cross-check results.The number of protons in an atom determines which element it is, while the number of neutrons determines which isotope it is.For example, strontium-86 has 38 protons and 48 neutrons, whereas strontium-87 has 38 protons and 49 neutrons.Sometimes only one method is possible, reducing the confidence researchers have in the results. “They’re based on ‘it’s that old because I say so,’ a popular approach by some of my older colleagues,” says Shea, laughing, “though I find I like it myself as I get more gray hair.” Kidding aside, dating a find is crucial for understanding its significance and relation to other fossils or artifacts.Methods fall into one of two categories: relative or absolute.