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The simplest situation for a geologist is a "layer cake" succession of sedimentary or extrusive igneous rock units arranged in nearly horizontal layers.In such a situation, the "principle of superposition" is easily applied, and the strata towards the bottom are older, those towards the top are younger.
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The layers of rock are known as "strata", and the study of their succession is known as "stratigraphy".
Fundamental to stratigraphy are a set of simple principles, based on elementary geometry, empirical observation of the way these rocks are deposited today, and gravity.
Much of the Earth's geology consists of successional layers of different rock types, piled one on top of another.
The most common rocks observed in this form are sedimentary rocks (derived from what were formerly sediments), and extrusive igneous rocks (e.g., lavas, volcanic ash, and other formerly molten rocks extruded onto the Earth's surface).
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The example used here contrasts sharply with the way conventional scientific dating methods are characterized by some critics (for example, refer to discussion in "Common Creationist Criticisms of Mainstream Dating Methods" in the Age of the Earth FAQ and Isochron Dating FAQ).