Definition relative dating geology
Since we assume all the layers were originally horizontal, then anything that made them not horizontal had to have happened after the fact.
We follow this same idea, with a few variations, when we talk about cross-cutting relationships in rock.
Geologists find the cross-cutting principle especially useful for establishing the relative ages of faults and igneous intrusions in sedimentary rocks.
Sometimes, geologists find strange things inside the strata, like chunks of metamorphic or igneous rock.
What could a geologist say about that section of rock?
Following the Principle of Original Horizontality, he could say that whatever forces caused the deformation, like an earthquake, must have occurred after the formation of all the rock strata.
If it had happened before the layers had formed, then we wouldn't see it punching through all the layers; we would only see it going through the layers that had existed at the time that it happened. The Principle of Cross-Cutting Relationships states that rock formations that cut across other rocks must be younger than the rocks that they cut across.
These interfaces between discontinuous layers of rock are called unconformities.
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It's called the Principle of Original Horizontality, and it just means what it sounds like: that all rock layers were originally horizontal. As you can imagine, regular sediments, like sand, silt, and clay, tend to accumulate over a wide area with a generally consistent thickness.
It sounds like common sense to you and me, but geologists have to define the Principle of Original Horizontality in order to make assumptions about the relative ages of sedimentary rocks. Say you have a layer of mud accumulating at the bottom of a lake. More sediment accumulates from the leaf litter and waste of the forest, until you have a second layer.
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Once we assume that all rock layers were originally horizontal, we can make another assumption: that the oldest rock layers are furthest toward the bottom, and the youngest rock layers are closest to the top. The forest layer is younger than the mud layer, right? When scientists look at sedimentary rock strata, they essentially see a timeline stretching backwards through history.