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If a radioactive isotope is said to have a half-life of 5,000 years that means after 5,000 years exactly half of it will have decayed from the parent isotope into the daughter isotopes.
Then after another 5,000 years half of the remaining parent isotope will have decayed.
For example if you have a fossil trilobite and it was found in the Wheeler Formation.
The Wheeler Formation has been previously dated to approximately 507 million year old, so we know the trilobite is also about 507 million years old.
Since the rock formation contains both types of fossils the ago of the rock formation must be in the overlapping date range of 415 to 420 million years.
Studying the layers of rock or strata can also be useful. If a layer of rock containing the fossil is higher up in the sequence that another layer, you know that layer must be younger in age. This can often be complicated by the fact that geological forces can cause faulting and tilting of rocks.
These isotopes break down at a constant rate over time through radioactive decay.Other techniques are occasionally useful, for example, historical or iconographic references to datable astronomical events such as solar eclipses (archaeoastronomy).When archaeologists have access to the historical records of civilizations that had calendars and counted and recorded the passage of years, the actual age of the archaeological material may be ascertained—provided there is some basis for correlating our modern calendar with the ancient calendar.This makes it ideal for dating much older rocks and fossils.Absolute dating can be achieved through the use of historical records and through the analysis of biological and geological patterns resulting from annual climatic variations, such as tree rings (dendrochronology) and varve analysis.
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Absolute dating is used to determine a precise age of a rock or fossil through radiometric dating methods.