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A fossil can be studied to determine what kind of organism it represents, how the organism lived, and how it was preserved.However, by itself a fossil has little meaning unless it is placed within some context.Measuring the uranium-to-lead ratios in the oldest rocks on Earth gave scientists an estimated age of the planet of 4.6 billion years.Segment from A Science Odyssey: "Origins."Geologists have calculated the age of Earth at 4.6 billion years.

After all, the ever-changing Earth rarely left a complete geological record.But for humans whose life span rarely reaches more than 100 years, how can we be so sure of that ancient date? Even the Greeks and Romans realized that layers of sediment in rock signified old age.But it wasn't until the late 1700s -- when Scottish geologist James Hutton, who observed sediments building up on the landscape, set out to show that rocks were time clocks -- that serious scientific interest in geological age began.New discoveries have filled in the gaps, and shown us in unimaginable detail the shape of the great ‘tree of life’.Darwin and his contemporaries could never have imagined the improvements in resolution of stratigraphy that have come since 1859, nor guessed what fossils were to be found in the southern continents, nor predicted the huge increase in the number of amateur and professional paleontologists worldwide.

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