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A fundamental principle of geology advanced by the 18th century Scottish physician and geologist James Hutton, is that "the present is the key to the past." In Hutton's words: "the past history of our globe must be explained by what can be seen to be happening now." The principle of intrusive relationships concerns crosscutting intrusions.

In geology, when an igneous intrusion cuts across a formation of sedimentary rock, it can be determined that the igneous intrusion is younger than the sedimentary rock.

Using this process geologists are able to assign actual ages with known degrees of error to specific geologic events.

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Though relative dating can only determine the sequential order in which a series of events occurred, not when they occurred, it remains a useful technique.

Relative dating by biostratigraphy is the preferred method in paleontology and is, in some respects, more accurate.

From top to bottom: Rounded tan domes of the Navajo Sandstone, layered red Kayenta Formation, cliff-forming, vertically jointed, red Wingate Sandstone, slope-forming, purplish Chinle Formation, layered, lighter-red Moenkopi Formation, and white, layered Cutler Formation sandstone.

Photo from Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah.

The Permian through Jurassic stratigraphy of the Colorado Plateau area of southeastern Utah is a great example of Original Horizontality and the Law of Superposition, two important ideas used in relative dating.