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Uranium-238 (U238), for example, is an unstable radioactive isotope which decays into Lead-206 (Pb206) naturally over time (it goes through 13 unstable intermediate stages before it finally stabilizes into Pb206).In this case, U238 is the “parent” and Pb206 is the “daughter.” Scientists begin by measuring how long it takes for a parent isotope to decay into a daughter isotope.This is despite the fact that it causes more problems for interpreting rock strata than it solves.

As Dalrymple (1994) points out, available techniques give us more than the accuracy we need. How can we figure out the amount of the daughter element originally present?If any of these assumptions are wrong, the method cannot accurately determine the age of a specimen.In a related article on geologic ages (Ages), we presented a chart with the various geologic eras and their ages.In fact, the very concept of strata representing long ages does not come from the rock strata themselves.That concept began with eighteenth-century French naturalist Georges Cuvier, picked up steam with Charles Lyell, and it has been in vogue ever since.In this particular case, it takes 4,460,000,000 years for half of a sample of U238 to decay into Pb206.

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