Dating the rocks
Understanding the ages of related fossil species helps scientists piece together the evolutionary history of a group of organisms.
Fossils, however, form in sedimentary rock -- sediment quickly covers a dinosaur's body, and the sediment and the bones gradually turn into rock.
Dinosaur bones, on the other hand, are millions of years old -- some fossils are billions of years old.
To determine the ages of these specimens, scientists need an isotope with a very long half-life.
For example, techniques based on isotopes with half lives in the thousands of years, such as Carbon-14, cannot be used to date materials that have ages on the order of billions of years, as the detectable amounts of the radioactive atoms and their decayed daughter isotopes will be too small to measure within the uncertainty of the instruments.
One of the most widely used and well-known absolute dating techniques is carbon-14 (or radiocarbon) dating, which is used to date organic remains.