There's another point of speculation that falls in with your stones analogy. But availability of stones was never the issue. Energy and labor required to convert the stones into usable items that lasted was. Even the best materials in use at the time, which were predominately flint, obsidian, for spear, knife, hand axe, and scraper tools, dulled. Requiring rechipping to sharpen. Everytime you rechip the edge, you take the chance of destroying the item. Actually making such a tool was likely a several days job provided you had the materials at hand.
Bronze was an advancement that much like electricity of our own time, changed forever civilization. Mainly because it was slightly more durable than stone, you could sharpen it without fear of destroying it in the process, and it could be molded into needed forms much easier than stone could be worked. The hold back on steel was reaching the needed temperatures to actually work steel. It was the great tech barrier of the time. A standard fire can't reach the heat needed to make steel molten.
There has to be the assumption that every 10 or more generations there comes along an Einstein. Our history seems to say this, with a role call of brilliant minds forever changing the future once the value of the discoveries were recognized. Often that value was delayed for other purposes but eventually even delay can not prevent recognition; such as Galileo. I would tend to believe without proof, that the mutation factor that creates these incredibly creative people is not just genetics or we would have long ago at some point in history have discovered this and then had a civilization that based it's ideas of proper morals and usefulness to justify forcing the mating to produce such. One thing the earth has that seems unusual is radioactives in abundance. Not to mention the passage of cosmic rays as well as the occasional solar disruptions that reach the earth even through the Van Allen belts at the poles. Without the Van Allen belts and the Ozone layer earth would never had had a chance to develop life and sustain it. For much of the same reasons I tend to think that any life, not just intelligent life will never be found near the galactic core of any galaxy. The stars are too close to each other and one going nova would sterilize all in the surrounding neighborhood. What life we do find is highly likely to be in the outer fringes through to the middle of the arms, in spiral galaxies and unlikely to form in clusters due to the higher chances of unruly neighbor stars in such a formation, because the dimensional aspect. In spirals they tend to be flat and linear but in clusters, they have the chance to be anywhere nearby. The outer fringes of clusters being the exception, where stars are again not as densely packed.
Back on topic, even with the stone age to bronze age, it was a tech advance requiring a higher energy in order to advance. Bronze required heat as well as the knowledge to mix tin and copper. As long as trees were near by, bronze could be created. But when all the trees in an area were cut, it was either move to find more wood or have the materials brought to them. Especially for early civilizations this proved problematic. Not only did you have to have a steady flow of food coming in but of raw materials as well. Those civilizations quickly reached a point where the raw materials were no longer close by cities. If history is correct, many of the early civilizations died for the lack of materials and energy to keep the level of civilization maintained. This is how important energy is and what the results is without it increasing to maintain the current level, which always demands more as the city/civilization grows in population, all wanting their part individually.
It doesn't seem to much matter what the level is technology wise. If our growth and resource demand is typical of any civilization, then no matter what is invented, there will always come a plateau. A point where more and more people demand the same level of comfort and convergence as the haves. Population expansion will consume it all, given time.