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He may suggest that some other very old material had contaminated the lava as it passed through the earth.Or he may suggest that the result was due to a characteristic of the lava—that the dyke had inherited an old ‘age’. 200.4 ± 3.2 million years) implies that the calculated date of 200.4 million years is accurate to plus or minus 3.2 million years.Let us imagine that the date reported by the lab was 150.7 ± 2.8 million years.Our geologist would be very happy with this result.Would he have concluded that the fossil date for the sediments was wrong? Would he have thought that the radiometric dating method was flawed? Instead of questioning the method, he would say that the radiometric date was not recording the time that the rock solidified.He may suggest that the rock contained crystals (called xenocrysts) that formed long before the rock solidified and that these crystals gave an older date.
However, this error is not the real error on the date.He would say that the date represents the time when the volcanic lava solidified.Such an interpretation fits nicely into the range of what he already believes the age to be.For example, a geologist may examine a cutting where the rocks appear as shown in Figure 1.Here he can see that some curved sedimentary rocks have been cut vertically by a sheet of volcanic rock called a dyke.