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Fossils, rocks, and time

January 1, 1993

We study out Earth for many reasons: to find water to drink or oil to run our cars or coal to heat our homes, to know where to expect earthquakes or landslides or floods, and to try to understand our natural surroundings. Earth is constantly changing--nothing on its surface is truly permanent. Rocks that are not on top of a mountain may once have been on the bottom of the sea. Thus, to understand the world we live on, we must add the dimension of time. We must study Earth's history.

When we talk about recorded history, time is measured in years, centuries, and tens of centuries. When we talk about Earth history, time is measured in millions and billions of years.

Time is an everyday part of our lives. We keep track of time with a marvelous invention, the calendar, which is based on the movements of the Earth in space. One spin of Earth on its axis is a day, and one trip around the sun is a year. The modern calendar is a great achievement, developed over many thousands of years as theory and technology improved.

People who study Earth's history also use a type of calendar, called the geologic time scale. It looks very different from the familiar calendar. In some ways, it is more like a book, and the rocks are its pages. Some of the pages are torn or missing, and the pages are not numbered, but geology gives us the tools to help us read this book.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1993
Title Fossils, rocks, and time
DOI 10.3133/7000011
Authors Lucy E. Edwards, John Pojeta
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Unnumbered Series
Series Title General Interest Publication
Index ID 7000011
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse