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In this lesson, we'll learn a few basic principles of stratigraphic succession and see whether we can find relative dates for those strange strata we found in the Grand Canyon.In order to establish relative dates, geologists must make an initial assumption about the way rock strata are formed. sediments, which are deposited and compacted in one place over time.It's called the Principle of Original Horizontality, and it just means what it sounds like: that all rock layers were originally horizontal. As you can imagine, regular sediments, like sand, silt, and clay, tend to accumulate over a wide area with a generally consistent thickness.It sounds like common sense to you and me, but geologists have to define the Principle of Original Horizontality in order to make assumptions about the relative ages of sedimentary rocks. Say you have a layer of mud accumulating at the bottom of a lake. More sediment accumulates from the leaf litter and waste of the forest, until you have a second layer.Geologists find the cross-cutting principle especially useful for establishing the relative ages of faults and igneous intrusions in sedimentary rocks.
We follow this same idea, with a few variations, when we talk about cross-cutting relationships in rock.
Let's say, in this set of rock strata, that we found a single intrusion of igneous rock punching through the sedimentary layers.
We could assume that this igneous intrusion must have happened after the formation of the strata.
Your goal is to study the smooth, parallel layers of rock to learn how the land built up over geologic time.
Now imagine that you come upon a formation like this: What do you think of it? How can you make any conclusions about rock layers that make such a crazy arrangement?