A generally accepted figure for the larger Stone Age featuring the first use of stone tools begins at 3.4 million years in the early Paleolithic Age. In a brief interim period of two thousand years following the end of the most recent Ice Age, the Mesolithic period serves as a transition to the Neolithic running from 8700 to 2000 BCE. More conservative estimates place the span of the Stone Age at 2.5 million years, ending around 3000 BCE. Modern dating systems are intended to provide approximate conclusions within large epochs, not pinpoint calendar dates, and shifts of opinion are ongoing. Grouped together, the Stone Age phases for the tripartite Stone Age are drawn from the Greek words Palaios (old) and Lithos (stone). The proliferation of sub-categorizations was designed as a method for studying early humans within a more organized set of chronologies. Before such terms came into use in the eighteenth century, the best available tracing of early man came from the Greek poet Hesiod. His categorization of prehistory followed a scheme through the Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, Heroic Age, and Iron Age. Such an arrangement is by all appearances more of a reflection of and salute to human mythology gathered by the threads of emerging and past cultures.
Something more scientific was required for scholars of the Enlightenment. The solution was provided by Christian J. Thomsen, a Danish antiquarian who relied on a three-part system of identification. In the larger picture of earth’s pre-history, his sequence of Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages gained consensus. The Stone Age’s separation into Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic brought about a clearer dividing line for epochs where humans began to work with metal.