New discoveries have filled in the gaps, and shown us in unimaginable detail the shape of the great ‘tree of life’.
Darwin and his contemporaries could never have imagined the improvements in resolution of stratigraphy that have come since 1859, nor guessed what fossils were to be found in the southern continents, nor predicted the huge increase in the number of amateur and professional paleontologists worldwide.
Fossils document the order of appearance of groups and they tell us about some of the amazing plants and animals that died out long ago.
Fossils can also show us how major crises, such as mass extinctions, happened, and how life recovered after them.
A key point is that it is no longer necessary simply to accept one chemical determination of a rock’s age.
Age estimates can be cross-tested by using different isotope pairs.
Geologists and paleontologists are highly self-critical, and they have worried for decades about these issues. D., is a vertebrate paleontologist with particular interests in dinosaur origins and fossil history.Repeated recalibrations and retests, using ever more sophisticated techniques and equipment, cannot shift that date. With modern, extremely precise, methods, error bars are often only 1% or so.The fossil record is fundamental to an understanding of evolution.Our understanding of the shape and pattern of the history of life depends on the accuracy of fossils and dating methods.Some critics, particularly religious fundamentalists, argue that neither fossils nor dating can be trusted, and that their interpretations are better.Older dates may change by a few million years up and down, but younger dates are stable.