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The simplest situation for a geologist is a "layer cake" succession of sedimentary or extrusive igneous rock units arranged in nearly horizontal layers.

In such a situation, the "principle of superposition" is easily applied, and the strata towards the bottom are older, those towards the top are younger.

As an example of how they are used, radiometric dates from geologically simple, fossiliferous Cretaceous rocks in western North America are compared to the geological time scale.

The potassium-argon age of some meteorites is as old as 4,500,000,000 years, and volcanic rocks as young as 20,000 years old have been measured by this method.The calcium-potassium age method is seldom used, however, because of the great abundance of nonradiogenic calcium in minerals or rocks, which masks the presence of radiogenic calcium.On the other hand, the abundance of argon in the Earth is relatively small because of its escape to the atmosphere during processes associated with volcanism.They are the "initial working hypotheses" to be tested further by data.Using these principles, it is possible to construct an interpretation of the sequence of events for any geological situation, even on other planets (e.g., a crater impact can cut into an older, pre-existing surface, or craters may overlap, revealing their relative ages).

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