For example, it has been known since the 1960s that the famous Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, the line marking the end of the dinosaurs, was 65 million years old.
Repeated recalibrations and retests, using ever more sophisticated techniques and equipment, cannot shift that date. With modern, extremely precise, methods, error bars are often only 1% or so.
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.
All these labors have not led to a single unexpected finding such as a human fossil from the time of the dinosaurs, or a Jurassic dinosaur in the same rocks as Silurian trilobites.
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Biologists actually have at their disposal several independent ways of looking at the history of life - not only from the order of fossils in the rocks, but also through phylogenetic trees. Relative dating is done by observing fossils, as described above, and recording which fossil is younger, which is older.
Geologists and paleontologists are highly self-critical, and they have worried for decades about these issues. D., is a vertebrate paleontologist with particular interests in dinosaur origins and fossil history.
Repeated, and tough, regimes of testing have confirmed the broad accuracy of the fossils and their dating, so we can read the history of life from the rocks with confidence. Educators have permission to reprint articles for classroom use; other users, please contact [email protected] reprint permission. Currently, he is studying certain basal dinosaurs from the Late Triassic and the quality of different segments of the fossil record.
Paleontologists now apply sophisticated mathematical techniques to assess the relative quality of particular fossil successions, as well as the entire fossil record.
These demonstrate that, of course, we do not know everything (and clearly never will), but we know enough.