Three-Age System
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The basis of the three-age system, emphasizing archaeological periods, is the 1819 work of Danish archaeologist Christian J. Thomsen (1788–1865). He related the classification of artifacts to technology, that is, according the materials in which made (stone, bronze, and iron), thereby defining the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. See table below for the Levantine Archaeological Periods based upon the three-age system.

Thomsen developed the three-age system as a means for the display of artifacts for the Museum of Northern Antiquities (now the National Museum of Denmark). Thomsen held that the three-age system had chronological significance where stone preceded bronze, and bronze preceded iron. The “Law of Association” arose from this presumption. The Law of Association is that objects placed in a grave as part of a burial generally consist of things in use at the time of interment.

Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae (1831–1835), a later associate of Thomsen succeeded him at the museum. Worsaae, now generally acknowledged as the first true professional archaeologist, field-tested the three-age system and verified the Law of Association. He found that in undisturbed graves that grave goods found together generally consisted of objects in use at the time of interment. Archaeologists quickly recognized the general application of the three-age system to archaeological work.

Sir John Lubbock (1834–1913) later further subdivided the Stone Age into Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. Late in the nineteenth century, the Mesolithic period became recognized. Further refinements have continued to the present day (see table). In geological time, the Paleolithic Period belongs to the Pleistocene Epoch. The Mesolithic Period to the present day is of the Holocene Epoch.


The Three-Age System in the Levant

Roman 63 BCE–324 CE Roman occupation
Hellenistic 333–63 BCE Decided Hellenistic influence
Persian 586–333 BCE Persian control
Iron II–A, B, C 1000–586 BCE Israelite II
Iron I–A, B, C 1200–1000 BCE Israelite I
Late Bronze–I, IIA, IIB 1550–1200 BCE Late Canaanite
Middle Bronze–I, IIA, IIB, IIC 1950–1550 BCE Middle Canaanite
Early Bronze–IVA, IVB/Middle Bronze–I 2300–1950 BCE

from EB to MB

Early Bronze–I, II, III 3300–2300 BCE

Early Canaanite

Chalcolithic 4300–3300 BCE

Ghassulian Culture

Neolithic 8500–4300 BCE

"New Stone Age"
Yarmukian Culture
(emergence of herding and agriculture)

Mesolithic 10,500–8500 BCE

"Middle Stone Age"
Natufian Culture
(hunters & gathers)

2 million years

"Old Stone Age"

Page last edited: 02/12/09 06:59 AM

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