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He also found that certain animals were in only certain layers and that they were in the same layers all across England.
Due to that discovery, Smith was able to recognize the order that the rocks were formed.
Sixteen years after his discovery, he published a geological map of England showing the rocks of different geologic time eras.
Methods for relative dating were developed when geology first emerged as a natural science in the 18th century.
Relative dating is the science of determining the relative order of past events (i.e., the age of an object in comparison to another), without necessarily determining their absolute age, (i.e. In geology, rock or superficial deposits, fossils and lithologies can be used to correlate one stratigraphic column with another.
Prior to the discovery of radiometric dating in the early 20th century, which provided a means of absolute dating, archaeologists and geologists used relative dating to determine ages of materials.
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.
Photo from Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah.
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The principle of inclusions and components states that, with sedimentary rocks, if inclusions (or clasts) are found in a formation, then the inclusions must be older than the formation that contains them.
For example, in sedimentary rocks, it is common for gravel from an older formation to be ripped up and included in a newer layer.