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The study of strata is called stratigraphy, and using a few basic principles, it is possible to work out the relative ages of rocks.Just as when they were deposited, the strata are mostly horizontal (principle of original horizontality)." First, the relative age of a fossil can be determined.

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This is the principle of original horizontality: layers of strata are deposited horizontally or nearly horizontally (Figure 2).

Thus, any deformations of strata (Figures 2 and 3) must have occurred after the rock was deposited.

Layers that cut across other layers are younger than the layers they cut through (principle of cross-cutting relationships).

The principle of superposition builds on the principle of original horizontality.

Sometimes sedimentary rocks are disturbed by events, such as fault movements, that cut across layers after the rocks were deposited.

This is the principle of cross-cutting relationships.

The age of the fossil must be determined so it can be compared to other fossil species from the same time period.

Understanding the ages of related fossil species helps scientists piece together the evolutionary history of a group of organisms.

Second, it is possible to determine the numerical age for fossils or earth materials.

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