Many of these organisms have left their remains as fossils in sedimentary rocks.
Geologists have studied the order in which fossils appeared and disappeared through time and rocks. Fossils can help to match rocks of the same age, even when you find those rocks a long way apart.
However, archeologists still require further information to find out the items that are oldest and those that are youngest in the order.
It is left for absolute dating to come up with the precise age of an artifact.
For a fossil to be a good index fossil, it needs to have lived during one specific time period, be easy to identify and have been abundant and found in many places. If you find ammonites in a rock in the South Island and also in a rock in the North Island, you can say that both rocks are Mesozoic.