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Christian Jürgensen Thomsen [1788-1865]

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Definition:

Christian Jürgensen Thomsen [1788-1865] was the Director of the Danish National Museum of Denmark in the early 19th century. He wrestled with the problem of trying to order the museum's collection of artifacts, gathered on expeditions throughout the world, and in doing so, created the first systematic relative dating system in the world.

His passion, fueled by his predecessor Rasmus Nyerup, led to the creation of the three-age system of chronology which continues to plague archaeology students to this day.


Thomsen sorted out the artifacts by class of material—Stone, Bronze, and Iron—and believed (rightly) that they were in chronological order. His belief was tested in the ground by archaeologist J.A.A. Worsaae.

Although additional studies have identified the complexity of human history far beyond this simple system, Thomsen's Three Age system has held up remarkably well.

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com Guide to Dating in Archaeology, and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.
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