Making this processes even more difficult is the fact that due to plate tectonics some rock layers have been uplifted into mountains and eroded while others have subsided to form basins and be buried by younger sediments.
With out individual time stamps the process of dating these structures could become extremely difficult.
Your goal is to study the smooth, parallel layers of rock to learn how the land built up over geologic time.
Let's look at these rock strata here: We have five layers total.
Let's say we find out, through numerical dating, that the rock layer shown above is 70 million years old.
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.
Once we assume that all rock layers were originally horizontal, we can make another assumption: that the oldest rock layers are furthest toward the bottom, and the youngest rock layers are closest to the top. The forest layer is younger than the mud layer, right? When scientists look at sedimentary rock strata, they essentially see a timeline stretching backwards through history.