Hence the introduction of iron occurred at quite a late period. The Egyptians seem to have made little use of iron before 1500 B.C. They called it the “metal of heaven,” as if they obtained it from meteorites. In the first five books of the Bible iron is mentioned only thirteen times, though copper and bronze are referred to forty-four times. In the Homeric poems of the ancient Greeks we find iron considered so valuable that a lump of it forms a prize in an athletic contest. Western and northern Europe became acquainted with iron only in the last thousand years before Christ.
The superior qualities of iron have secured for it the chief place among the metals. Nevertheless, peoples without any knowledge of iron are met with in remote parts of the world. The Australian tribes, for instance, continue to make stone implements as rude as those of Paleolithic man in Europe. The South Sea Islands, owing to their peculiar formation, produce no metals. Their inhabitants, when discovered a few centuries ago, were still in the Stone Age, and so ignorant of metal that they planted the first iron nails obtained from Europeans, in the hope of raising a new crop. Among the Malays and the African negroes the knowledge and use of iron also followed immediately upon the Stone Age. The American Indians, before the discovery of the New World, knew nothing of iron. Most of them used stone implements like those of Neolithic Europe, together with unsmelted copper, gold, and silver. In Mexico and Peru, however, smelted copper and bronze were also known. India, Indo-China, and China afford evidence of the regular succession in those regions of the use of copper, bronze, and iron.