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Much of the Earth's geology consists of successional layers of different rock types, piled one on top of another.The most common rocks observed in this form are sedimentary rocks (derived from what were formerly sediments), and extrusive igneous rocks (e.g., lavas, volcanic ash, and other formerly molten rocks extruded onto the Earth's surface).There are situations where it potentially fails -- for example, in cave deposits.In this situation, the cave contents are younger than both the bedrock below the cave and the suspended roof above.Despite this, the "principle of cross cutting relationships" can be used to determine the sequence of deposition, folds, and faults based on their intersections -- if folds and faults deform or cut across the sedimentary layers and surfaces, then they obviously came after deposition of the sediments.You can't deform a structure (e.g., bedding) that is not there yet!The example used here contrasts sharply with the way conventional scientific dating methods are characterized by some critics (for example, refer to discussion in "Common Creationist Criticisms of Mainstream Dating Methods" in the Age of the Earth FAQ and Isochron Dating FAQ).
A few principles were recognized and specified later.
These are often characterised as the norm, rather than the exception.
I thought it would be useful to present an example where the geology is simple, and unsurprisingly, the method does work well, to show the quality of data that would have to be invalidated before a major revision of the geologic time scale could be accepted by conventional scientists.
This orientation is not an assumption, because in virtually all situations, it is also possible to determine the original "way up" in the stratigraphic succession from "way up indicators".
For example, wave ripples have their pointed crests on the "up" side, and more rounded troughs on the "down" side.