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The uranium-thorium method is often helpful for dating finds in the 40,000- to 500,000-year-old range, too old for radiocarbon but too young for K-Ar or Ar-Ar.

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Both plants and animals exchange carbon with their environment until they die.

Afterward, the amount of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 in their remains decreases.

Unlike observation-based relative dating, most absolute methods require some of the find to be destroyed by heat or other means.

This family of dating methods, some more than a century old, takes advantage of the environment’s natural radioactivity.

When it comes to determining the age of stuff scientists dig out of the ground, whether fossil or artifact, “there are good dates and bad dates and ugly dates,” says paleoanthropologist John Shea of Stony Brook University.

The good dates are confirmed using at least two different methods, ideally involving multiple independent labs for each method to cross-check results.

Paleontologists still commonly use biostratigraphy to date fossils, often in combination with paleomagnetism and tephrochronology.

A submethod within biostratigraphy is faunal association: Sometimes researchers can determine a rough age for a fossil based on established ages of other fauna from the same layer — especially microfauna, which evolve faster, creating shorter spans in the fossil record for each species.

Thermoluminescence: Silicate rocks, like quartz, are particularly good at trapping electrons.

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