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Each element comes in different forms, called isotopes, most of which are stable and do not change.Some isotopes, however, are unstable and decay radioactively into other elements.Radioactive dating is often illustrated with an hour glass.The sand grains at the top of the sealed glass are like the atoms of the parent isotope in the rock, and those at the bottom like the atoms of the daughter.These geologic events can cause elements to be gained and lost to the rock.It’s like cracking the hourglass and having some of the sand leak out, or other sand leak in.An hour glass is only useful if it is not disturbed.

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Other minerals may have grown inside the rock much later, during a time when the area was heated and metamorphosed.This means that, on its own, a radioactive ‘date’ is meaningless. You may be surprised to learn that a geologist would never collect a rock at random and send it off for radioactive dating on its own. Every radioactive date has to be interpreted before anyone can say what it means.What happens is that the geologist will carefully record exactly where he collected the rock.How can we know what disturbances have affected the elements in our rocks? Did you hear about the old wood cutter who was bragging about his axe?

‘I’ve had this trusty axe for fifty years,’ he Tas Walker Radioactive dating begins by carefully measuring the concentrations of radioactive isotopes in rocks.