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Nonetheless, stratigraphy and radiometric dating of Precambrian rocks have clearly demonstrated that the history of the Earth extends billions of years into the past.
Radiometric dating has not been applied to just a few selected rocks from the geologic record.
Present evidence indicates, however, that these intervals were rather short (100-200 million years) in comparison with the length of time that has elapsed since the Solar System formed some 4 to 5 billion years ago.
Thus, the ages of the Earth, the Moon, and meteorites as measured by different methods represent slightly different events, although the differences in these ages are generally slight, and so, for the purposes of this chapter they are here treated as a single event.
The abundance and variety of fossils in Phanerozoic rocks have allowed geologists to decipher in considerable detail the past 600 million years or so of the Earth’s history.
Although early stratigraphers could determine the relative order of rock units and fossils, they could only estimate the lengths of time involved by observing the rates of present geologic processes and comparing the rocks produced by those processes with those preserved in the stratigraphic record.
This method is thought to represent the time when lead isotopes were last homogeneously distributed throughout the Solar System and, thus, the time that the planetary bodies were segregated into discrete chemical systems.
The results from these methods indicate that the Earth, meteorites, the Moon, and, by inference, the entire Solar System are 4.5 to 4.6 billion years old.
Literally many tens of thousands of radiometric age measurements are documented in the scientific literature.
Since beginning operation in the early 1960s, the Geochronology laboratories of the U. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, have C ages.