Scientists date igneous rock using elements that are slow to decay, such as uranium and potassium. By dating these surrounding layers, they can figure out the youngest and oldest that the fossil might be; this is known as bracketing the age of the sedimentary layer in which the fossils occur.
Why is radiometric dating less useful to date sedimentary rocks and igneous rocks?
Sedimentary rocks may have radioactive elements in them, but they have been re-worked from other rocks, so essentially, there radiometric clock has not been re-set back to zero. However, sedimentary rocks can be age dated if a volcanic ash horizon or a diabase sill or dyke can be found within the sequence.
Why are radioactive isotopes more useful for dating igneous rocks?
Isotopes are important to geologists because each radioactive element decays at a constant rate, which is unique to that element. These rates of decay are known, so if you can measure the proportion of parent and daughter isotopes in rocks now, you can calculate when the rocks were formed.