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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).

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.

Most of these principles were formally proposed by Nicolaus Steno (Niels Steensen, Danish), in 1669, although some have an even older heritage that extends as far back as the authors of the Bible.

ESC.512 (Radioactive Decay as a Measure of Age - Earth Science) SCI. ESC.507 (Determining Relative Ages - Earth Science) SCI.

These are often characterised as the norm, rather than the exception.Using these principles, it is possible to construct an interpretation of the sequence of events for any geological situation, even on other planets (e.g., a crater impact can cut into an older, pre-existing surface, or craters may overlap, revealing their relative ages).The simplest situation for a geologist is a "layer cake" succession of sedimentary or extrusive igneous rock units arranged in nearly horizontal layers.A few principles were recognized and specified later.An early summary of them is found in Charles Lyell's .

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