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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.

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The idea behind radiocarbon dating is straightforward, but years of work were required to develop the technique to the point where accurate dates could be obtained. The method was developed by Willard Libby in the late 1940s and soon became a standard tool for archaeologists.Libby received the Nobel Prize for his work in 1960.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.Sedimentary rocks are rarely useful for dating because they are made up of bits of older rocks.

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