Main techniques dating hominids
K-Ar dating has played a key role in unraveling the temporal patterns of hominid evolution as far back as the first significant discovery of East African australopithecines at Olduvai Gorge in 1959.
It was in large part due to the desire to understand the age of the Olduvai hominid remains that pioneering attempts were made to date geologically young materials using the K-Ar method.
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Since the time of separation of the evolutionary lines of apes and humans about 5 million years ago, some fossil specimens of the skeletal remains of our earliest ancestors have been preserved and discovered.
Several dating methods exist, depending on different criteria and techniques, and some very well known examples of disciplines using such techniques are, for example, history, archaeology, geology, paleontology, astronomy and even forensic science, since in the latter it is sometimes necessary to investigate the moment in the past in which the death of a cadaver occurred.
Relative dating methods are unable to determine the absolute age of an object or event, but can determine the impossibility of a particular event happening before or after another event of which the absolute date is well known.
Historians, for example, know that Shakespeare's play Henry V was not written before 1587 because Shakespeare's primary source for writing his play was the second edition of Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles, not published until 1587.
In the past two decades, particularly, discoveries of our fossil ancestors have been made in unprecedented numbers and diversity.
Detailed studies of these fossils provide new insights into human evolution, such as the origin of locomotion and cultural activity, and the evolution of the brain, among many other complex features that have come to define humanity.
Even during the time this manuscript was written, new hominid discoveries in Ethiopia and Kenya were announced that trace our earliest ancestors further back into the Pliocene.
The ages assigned to these fossils have been obtained through radiometric dating of volcanic rocks interbedded with the fossiliferous sediments.
Such numerical calibrations are crucial to understanding rates and timing of evolutionary change.