Archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians recognize a three-age system to categorize people groups and events throughout history. The common thread through all three ages is technology. Mankind’s progress is tracked throughout the ages based on technology and the available materials to create it. With that said, plastic introduces something new to the equation.
The three ages in the system are: stone, bronze, and iron. The most recent of the three is the Iron Age. But when you consider just how many modern materials have proved superior to iron, it is reasonable to say that we have long since left the Iron Age behind. In the 21st century, we are all about plastic.
The Stone Age
The earliest and most prehistoric of the three ages is the Stone Age. If you believe in the big bang and evolution theories, you might be predisposed to believe that the Stone Age lasted more than three million years. According to the British scientists who developed the three-age system back in the mid-19th century, the Stone Age ended somewhere between 4000 and 2000 BC.
The Stone Age was characterized by basic metalworking and soft metals. Stone tools and weapons dominated. Those metals that were used were mainly for ornamentation. Toward the later stages of the Stone Age, societies began developing metal alloys, eventually leading to the Bronze Age.
The Bronze and Iron Ages
The ability to create alloys changed everything. Stone and wood were replaced with copper and bronze. Tools became more advanced and weapons more deadly. One of the natural results of the Bronze Age was the development of organized city states ordered around shared agricultural and self-defense.
Bronze eventually gave way to iron, which eventually introduced steel. From that point forward, humanity was on a trajectory that would ultimately lead to where we are today. Iron and steel laid the foundation for all sorts of building materials that improved agriculture and warfare, made infrastructure projects possible, and led to impressive architecture.
The Plastic Age
All was going just fine in the Iron Age until petroleum was discovered. With petroleum came the ability to produce plastics using chemistry principles developed throughout the Industrial Revolution. Synthetic plastic manufacturing began in earnest in the late 1800s.
Today, plastic dominates. It is everywhere. If you were to remove all of the things in your home containing any amount of plastic, you would be left with a fairly empty living space. Plastics have replaced wood, metal, stone, and even rubber.
According to Seraphim Plastics, a Tennessee based commercial plastic recycler, the variation in plastic types is that which makes the material so versatile. We have access to polypropylene, polyethylene, PET, and more. Even carbon fiber is a type of reinforced plastic polymer.
Not an Official Age
The three-age system was originally intended to make tracking prehistoric man a bit easier. Science hasn’t found the need to add additional ages due to the fact that historic records tell us most of what we need to know beginning with the last few generations of the Iron Age.
No, the plastic age isn’t official. It is not even real. It was made up for the purposes of this post. That being said, future anthropologists may look back on the last 150 years and consider the contributions plastics have made to the progress of humankind.
We already know that plastics have completely revolutionized the world we live in. Plastics have been as important to modern humans as stone, bronze, and iron were to previous civilizations. So while there may not be an officially recognized plastic age, denying its existence is difficult.