This section discusses the methods geologists use to determine how old a fossil or rock is. Therefore, the sedimentary rock must be older than the intrusion.
Relative age-dating methods determine when an event happened compared to another event. Geologic time scale Relative age-dating involves comparing a rock layer or rock structure with other near-by layers or structures. Roadcut in Wise County showing the principle of superposition (Photograph by Stan Johnson) Flat-lying sedimentary layers from the Appalachian Plateaus province of southwestern Virginia illustrate the principle of superposition.
Unfortunately, those methods don't work on all rocks, and they don't work at all if you don't have rocks in the laboratory to age-date. They are descriptions of how one rock or event is older or younger than another.
There's no absolute age-dating method that works from orbit, and although scientists are working on age-dating instruments small enough to fly on a lander (I'm looking at you, Barbara Cohen), nothing has launched yet. Relative age dating has given us the names we use for the major and minor geologic time periods we use to split up the history of Earth and all the other planets.
When you talk about the Precambrian, Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic on Earth, or the Noachian, Hesperian, and Amazonian for Mars, these are all relative ages.
Relative-age time periods are what make up the Geologic Time Scale.
If a geologist claims to be 45 years old, that is an absolute age.