It is hard to say what path human civilization would have taken if people had not invented the wheel in ancient times.
Based on this simple detail, in the following millennia, they could create a vast variety of machines and mechanisms, guiding the development of our society along the path of improvement of technology. The inventor of the wheel may have been the greatest technical genius of his time.
Who invented the wheel?
Unfortunately, the inventor of the wheel lived in such ancient times that history has not preserved for us not only his name but even the place where it happened. Many historians consider the prototype of the wheel to be round stone millstones that were used to grind cereals from the Neolithic period onward.
The historical period, to which the first wheels belong, is defined rather approximately somewhere around the V millennium BC. It is to this time refers to an archaeological find made by a Romanian scientist near the town of Iasi in 1981. In the excavation were found clay toys depicting a wheeled wagon. To date, this is the most ancient of the wheels known to historians.
Similar findings dating back to the IV millennium BC have been found in other places in Central Europe. These are ceramic pots with the drawing of a cart, toy models of wheels and even a wooden petrified wheel made of ash wood. The two-wheeled wagon from the “Tyagunov Grave” burial mound in the Zaporozhye region of Ukraine is roughly five thousand years old. All these findings prove that modern civilization did not originate in the Middle East, as previously thought, but in the Central European region.
Wooden wheels of Mesopotamia
Around the fourth millennium BC, wheels depicted during excavations of the Sumerian city of Uruk in Mesopotamia date back to the fourth millennium BC. A thousand years later, the skill of making wheels had developed so well that Sumerian kings took with them into the afterlife not only food, jewelry and beloved slaves but also wooden wheeled carriages. Such burials have been found in the ancient cities of Ur and Kish, as well as in ancient Susa.
All these wheels were made of a solid wooden circle with a hole cut out for an axle and held in place with a wedge. It is believed that their prototype were wooden rollers that were used to move heavy blocks of stone in the construction of temples and tombs.
Evolution of the wheel
By the second millennium B.C., the wheel had developed into a bent rim and hub, and the wheel was fitted with wooden spokes. Such wheels have been found almost throughout Europe, from Ireland to the Southern Urals. After another millennium, the outer part of the rim was padded with strips of metal to increase strength.
Characteristically, wheels at this period are used not only in wagons but also in the construction of other primitive mechanisms – water elevators, potter’s wheels, lathes, spinners, etc.
Cultures that did not know the wheel
While ancient Europeans were using wheeled wagons to their utmost and were making various mechanisms, the aborigines of America and Africa did not know about them. However, studies show that the Olmec culture was close to the invention of the wheel, using wooden rollers in construction, but the Olmecs did not have time to take the next step.
Toys as wheeled figures made of wood and fired clay have been found in some peoples who did not use the wheel in their homes.
The wheel as a mystical and sacred symbol
In the ancient cultures of many Indo-European peoples, there is a symbolism associated with the wheel. This symbolized the infinity of life and death cycles, the eternal route taken by living beings in the endless wheel of incarnations.
The circular shape was associated with the solar deity, making its daily circle across the sky. All cultures familiar with the wheel used it in their sacred symbolism. The Buddhist Dharma, the Egyptian battle chariots, etc. It was a symbol of power, eternal movement and renewal, supreme law and truth.