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The first step toward accurately measuring geologic time came at the turn of the 20th century, when French physicist Henry Becquerel discovered the natural radioactive decay of uranium.
More recently, they have developed a number of new methods.
Some use radioactive isotopes; others take advantage of different phenomena, such as thermoluminescence and electron spin resonance.
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Geologists, paleontologists and archaeologists have pieced together a fairly detailed account of how Earth and its inhabitants evolved.
Uranium-lead dates for a single zircon crystal found in the oldest sedimentary rock yet known suggest that by 4.4 billion years ago our planet already had already cooled enough to have a crust.