Skip to comments.Why It Took So Long to Invent the Wheel [ s/b, why wheels haven't survived in strata ]
Posted on 03/12/2012 9:01:18 PM PDT by SunkenCiv
Wheels are the archetype of a primitive, caveman-level technology. But in fact, they're so ingenious that it took until 3500 B.C. for someone to invent them. By that time -- it was the Bronze Age -- humans were already casting metal alloys, constructing canals and sailboats, and even designing complex musical instruments such as harps.
The tricky thing about the wheel is not conceiving of a cylinder rolling on its edge. It's figuring out how to connect a stable, stationary platform to that cylinder.
"The stroke of brilliance was the wheel-and-axle concept," said David Anthony, a professor of anthropology at Hartwick College and author of "The Horse, the Wheel, and Language"... "But then making it was also difficult."
To make a fixed axle with revolving wheels, Anthony explained, the ends of the axle had to be nearly perfectly smooth and round, as did the holes in the center of the wheels; otherwise, there would be too much friction for the wheels to turn. Furthermore, the axles had to fit snugly inside the wheels' holes, but not too snugly -- they had to be free to rotate. [What Makes Wheels Appear to Spin Backward?]
The success of the whole structure was extremely sensitive to the size of the axle. While a narrow one would reduce the amount of friction, it would also be too weak to support a load. Meanwhile, a thick axle would hugely increase the amount of friction. "They solved this problem by making the earliest wagons quite narrow, so they could have short axles, which made it possible to have an axle that wasn't very thick," Anthony told Life's Little Mysteries.
The sensitivity of the wheel-and-axle system to all these factors meant that it could not have been developed in phases, he said. It was an all-or-nothing structure.
(Excerpt) Read more at scientificamerican.com ...
The earliest known wheels, according to the article, date from ca. 3500 BC.
The last in-migration from Asia over the Bering land bridge occurred around 9000 BC. Other theories postulate other in-migrations, but these were also from places and times that didn’t have the wheel.
Of course, the Vikings might have brought the wheel ca. 1000 AD, but I haven’t heard of any evidence for that.
Let's see, they built the first pyramids about 5,000 years ago. If it were an AFLCIO job under OSHA regulations they would still be working on it.
The Theory is that they didn’t have any animals that could pull a wagon or cart. The horse was native to North America but didn’t survive the ice age.
The bigger question is why they didn’t develop metal tools and weapons. At least in meso-america and S. American they had some pretty advanced skills,but mostly used them for artwork.
“Archaeology just ignores India. Indian archaeologists insist that humans go back at least a million years.”
I’m not sure what you’re driving at here (hey, no pun intended!)
Could you elucidate a little more?
How long do “western” scientists say humans go back, for one thing?
(I know they are mostly atheistic communists, I know that part already!)
It’s OK. He had a green card.
They didn’t have green cards back then.
They had green steles.
They lived in prehistoric societies isolated from the continents where all the action was.
In the case of Meso-America, bountiful sources of obsidian negated the necessity of metals for tools and weaponry. Obsidian takes, and holds a better edge than either copper, or bronze, so these were not developed by the local peoples.
In the case of South America, there was some usage of copper in weaponry prior to the arrival of the Spanish, and had they not arrived when they did, bronze, and perhaps even iron would have eventually been utilized. We will never know for certain, though, as the natural progression was interrupted.
The civilizations of Meso and South America during the 1500's AD was closely equivalent to Sumer, and early Egypt, and had they reamined isolated would have progressed, and expanded. The nomadic, and semi-nomadic tribal cultures of North America were essentially doomed any way you care to look at it. If it were not the Europeans, it would have been the Islamics, or Asians, or even the civilizations to their south which would have displaced them, simply because they could not effectively hold the resources they posessed with the manpower and technology available to them...
During the ice age, much of northern Europe and Asia, including the Himalyas, and North America were under sheets of ice.
The warmest places for humans was around the equator - present day India, much of Africa, the Amazon River Basin and southeast Asia. It is only now that those places are being explored for early human civilizations, and in the case of India and Indonesia, most of that will have to be via marine archaeology. The important stuff is underwater.
The problem with archaeology is it was birthed as a scientific endeavor during the 19th century in Europe, when everyone expected the first humans to look like modern Victorian ladies and gentlemen.
Better than some steels also. Some surgeons use obsidian blades on their scalpels because they are sharper than steel blades. Fact.
I remember reading that one of the greatest “inventions” of early man was the wheelbarrow. Somehow it seems intuitive, but someone had to come up with the concept I guess.
I was unaware of that, but don't find it surprising at all...
Anyone know which came first - the wheel, or the building arch?
Seems like one could be readily deduced from the other.
I’ve always been surprised that there is no evidence that New World natives used stone wheels for grinding or for food processing.
As the Southern societies grew in size, it seems almost essential to have that kind of labor saving device.
I’m also surprised the Southern New World never figured out the water wheel, which could have dramatically improved productivity in cutting and shaping structural stone and lumber.
Indigenous North Americans were in the Stone Age - they didnt do metal, let alone the wheel. And the point of this article is that the wheel itself isnt the big deal - it is the bearing which allows the wheel to turn which is the real deal. And you cant make efficient, durable bearings out of wood or stone. In fact, ball and roller bearings are made of very high quality steel - anything less breaks down in a hurry under the concentrated, cyclic loads involved - and a damaged ball bearing produces more friction, not less, than a simple sliding bearing.
The photo example is PreColumbian, as a matter of fact. :’) The presence of the wheel is known, but the wheel was not observed to be in use when the Spanish and Portuguese, French, English, and Dutch got here. Even the use of metals was mostly limited to decoration. OTOH, in Tiahuanaco there was metal smelting and some use of metal in construction.
Whoops, missed ya.
So, it was all facilitated by short skirts and red hair. That does make sense...
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