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While digging the Somerset Coal Canal in southwest England, he found that fossils were always in the same order in the rock layers.As he continued his job as a surveyor, he found the same patterns across England.He also found that certain animals were in only certain layers and that they were in the same layers all across England.Due to that discovery, Smith was able to recognize the order that the rocks were formed.This is because it is not possible for a younger layer to slip beneath a layer previously deposited.The only disturbance that the layers experience is bioturbation, in which animals and/or plants move things in the layers.however, this process is not enough to allow the layers to change their positions.

For example, in sedimentary rocks, it is common for gravel from an older formation to be ripped up and included in a newer layer.

Observation of modern marine and non-marine sediments in a wide variety of environments supports this generalization (although cross-bedding is inclined, the overall orientation of cross-bedded units is horizontal).

The law of superposition states that a sedimentary rock layer in a tectonically undisturbed sequence is younger than the one beneath it and older than the one above it.

A fundamental principle of geology advanced by the 18th century Scottish physician and geologist James Hutton, is that "the present is the key to the past." In Hutton's words: "the past history of our globe must be explained by what can be seen to be happening now." The principle of intrusive relationships concerns crosscutting intrusions.

In geology, when an igneous intrusion cuts across a formation of sedimentary rock, it can be determined that the igneous intrusion is younger than the sedimentary rock.

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