The last modification to the geologic time scale of Figure 1 was in the 1930s, before radiometric dating was fully developed, when the Oligocene Epoch was inserted between the Eocene and the Miocene.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.
As these changes have occurred, organisms have evolved, and remnants of some have been preserved as fossils.
Radiocarbon dating, which is also known as carbon-14 dating, is one widely used radiometric dating scheme to determine dates of ancient artifacts.
In discussions of the age of the earth and the antiquity of the human race, creationists often assail perceived weaknesses in radiocarbon dating. Morris, for instance, wrote, "Despite its high popularity, [radiocarbon dating] involves a number of doubtful assumptions, some of which are sufficiently serious to make its results for all ages exceeding about 2000 or 3000 years, in serious need of revision." [Morris2000, pg. Radiocarbon dating is based on the fact that the interaction of cosmic rays from outer space with nitrogen atoms in the atmosphere produces an unstable isotope of carbon, namely radiocarbon.
The older a sample is, the less (the period of time after which half of a given sample will have decayed) is about 5,730 years, the oldest dates that can be reliably measured by this process date to around 50,000 years ago, although special preparation methods occasionally permit accurate analysis of older samples.
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.