Our goal is to determine what kind of animal it was and when it lived.
Want to find out how the history of life is written in the rocks?
Some critics, particularly religious fundamentalists, argue that neither fossils nor dating can be trusted, and that their interpretations are better.
Biologists actually have at their disposal several independent ways of looking at the history of life - not only from the order of fossils in the rocks, but also through phylogenetic trees. Relative dating is done by observing fossils, as described above, and recording which fossil is younger, which is older.
The discovery of means for absolute dating in the early 1900s was a huge advance.
At the dig site we begin by looking for exposed fossils. We dig slowly and carefully so we don't damage the specimen.
Back in the lab, we can study the fossil more closely.