Ever wonder where the term ‘Stone Age’ came from? It is everywhere—the supposed ‘fact’ that prehistoric humans used stone tools for over two million years before they learned how to find and use metal. Then they began using bronze, and iron only came later.

But the evidence from archaeology is not as clear–cut as you might think.

Christian Thompson, the man who invented the ‘three–age’ system—the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age—was actually a coin collector who was appointed the first head of the Danish National Museum, despite being largely untrained.

His job was to find a classification system that would bring some order to the jumbled human artifacts (tools, weapons, ornaments and so on) piled around the museum.

His successor at the museum, an archaeologist named J.J.A. Worsaae, went looking for evidence of this sequence at dig sites around Europe—beginning with an excavation of burial sites in Ireland, where he found lots of stone, brass and iron tools….

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