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Transportation Technology

Why Did It Take So Long To Invent the Wheel? 389

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-blame-the-schools dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Wheels are the archetype of a primitive, caveman-level technology, and we tend to think that inventing the wheel was the number one item on man's to-do list after learning to walk upright. But LiveScience reports that it took until the bronze age (3500 BC), when humans were already casting metal alloys and constructing canals and sailboats, for someone to invent the wheel-and-axle, a task so challenging archaeologists say it probably happened only once, in one place. The tricky thing about the wheel isn't a cylinder rolling on its edge, but figuring out how to connect a stable, stationary platform to that cylinder. 'The stroke of brilliance was the wheel-and-axle concept,' says David Anthony, author of The Horse, the Wheel, and Language. To make a fixed axle with revolving wheels, the ends of the axle have to be nearly perfectly smooth and round, as did the holes in the center of the wheels. The axles have to fit snugly inside the wheels' holes, but not too snug, or there will be too much friction for the wheels to turn. But the real reason it took so long is that whoever invented the wheel would have needed metal tools to chisel fine-fitted holes and axles. 'It was the carpentry that probably delayed the invention until 3500 BC or so, because it was only after about 4000 BC that cast copper chisels and gouges became common in the Near East.'"
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Why Did It Take So Long To Invent the Wheel?

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  • by tsa (15680) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @03:21AM (#39236959) Homepage

    That's why it took so long to invent the wheel.

  • obvious (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2012 @03:21AM (#39236965)

    Since there was no patent law, there was no incentive to innovate, and technological progress stagnated.

  • So.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2012 @03:22AM (#39236967)

    THAT'S why they're always telling me not to reinvent it...

  • Environment (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @03:22AM (#39236971) Homepage Journal

    But also the wheel needed an application. While people lived in small villages, there wasn't much of a need to move things over large enough distances to require vehicles. And when things were moved across the countryside, there may not have been surfaces for wheels. Most of us could build a wheel and axle to use on a modern road, but how about building one for a narrow, muddy track through the forest?

    • Re:Environment (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2012 @03:32AM (#39237009)

      The people who invented wheels were not using them for wagons, but originally as pottery wheels. Wheels for wagons came a little later, and further north, in Central Asia, where the wide flat grasslands made it easier to use wheeled wagons (at least in summer), and the availability of large trees made the wood needed more accessible.

    • Re:Environment (Score:5, Interesting)

      by green1 (322787) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @03:35AM (#39237023)

      When I read your post, the first thing to come to mind is that you don't need long distances to make a wheel useful, wheelbarrows are very useful tools used generally for quite short distances. However on further thought it occurs to me that those sort of applications may have been more likely invented as an application for the wheel, rather than the other way around. You do however have a good point about the surfaces required, it is actually only quite recently that it has made sense to ship large shipments or long distances over land, even 200 years ago every effort would have been made to ship by water instead if at all possible. (obviously not always possible, but there's a good reason that the population of many countries is concentrated on the coasts and along major waterways.

      • Wheelbarrows are only useful when you have *decent* wheels. A 4000BC wheel was probably no better at short distances than a crude sled, and a heck of a lot harder to build.
        • Re:Environment (Score:4, Interesting)

          by arth1 (260657) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:32AM (#39237289) Homepage Journal

          For garden work, I still find it easier to drag stuff using a "sled" of two long sticks rather than using a wheelbarrow. Especially when the ground is soggy, uneven or steep.
          It would be even more so for those owning a large farm animal or slaves, I would think. Until they had somewhere to use the wheels more efficiently than their donkey/cow/horse/slave, why would they want wheels? It may have been a solution looking for a problem for a long time.

        • This is very true. While a wheel is relatively easy to concoct, a reliable, durable axle... one that can actually handle the load at the same time as the friction applied... is not as simple to make.

      • Re:Environment (Score:5, Interesting)

        by msobkow (48369) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @08:27AM (#39238209) Homepage Journal

        More to the point, there is a much older invention called a "travois", which is basically a pair of long sticks with a basket or netting between to carry the cargo. The travois was used for centuries before the invention of the wheel, if not thousands of years.

        Contrary to popular modern understanding, the friction of dragging a travois was little or no worse than early wheels which were poorly fitted and poorly lubricated. It wasn't until axles could be turned on lathes and the joints properly greased that the wheel actually had any significant advantage over the travois for the average person.

        Far earlier than the wheel was the simple and basic concept of placing logs under heavy loads and letting them roll under the load. Log rollers didn't require special machining tools, they could handle incredibly heavy loads, and as a result, there was no real NEED for the wheel until technology made it more efficient than what people had been using in the past.

        It's like compilers. Sure we can't imagine computing without them nowadays, but for 10-20 years in the early days of computing, there WERE NO PROGRAMMING LANGUAGES. It wasn't until computers were powerful and "cheap" enough to make the concept of an abstract language cheaper to code than raw machine code that the compiler and programming languages really took hold.

        • It's like compilers. Sure we can't imagine computing without them nowadays, but for 10-20 years in the early days of computing, there WERE NO PROGRAMMING LANGUAGES. It wasn't until computers were powerful and "cheap" enough to make the concept of an abstract language cheaper to code than raw machine code that the compiler and programming languages really took hold.

          Your estimate is a bit too high. Plankalkül was developed between 1943 and 1945, and published in a paper in 1948. FORTRAN was implemented in around 1955. I ripped these dates from Wikipedia's History of programming languages [wikipedia.org] article.

          For that matter, Turing's famous and influential 1936 paper On Computable Numbers [thocp.net] paper introduces an abbreviation system ("Inst{...}") for building Turing Machine configurations (on page 260) which might loosely be described as a higher-level language.

        • by bidule (173941)

          More to the point, there is a much older invention called a "travois", which is basically a pair of long sticks with a basket or netting between to carry the cargo. The travois was used for centuries before the invention of the wheel, if not thousands of years.

          Well, duh! Ayla invented it during the last glaciation. That's about 30k years ago.

    • Hunter gatherers would have had plenty of use for a wheel, if you were to use your argument. Mankind may have settled down into small villages eventually, but they still went on days/weeks long hunting trips. You wouldn't want to carry a large prey with you on a sled or on your shoulders, if you would have a cart of some sort to transport it on. I'd say your argument doesn't really hold up if you look at it a bit more closely.
      • by arth1 (260657)

        Yeah, cause wild animals are considerate and will only go where the ground is hard, flat and even.
        There's no reason why hunters of wild animals would have to traverse forests, climb hills, walk through sand, mud or rivers, or in any way go into the WILD, now is there?

    • Re:Environment (Score:5, Informative)

      by tinkerton (199273) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @06:01AM (#39237589)

      Infrastructure is more important than the technological challenge.

      Richard Bulliett In "The Camel and the Wheel" explains how the camel came to replace the wheel in the middle east for almost 1000 years, an evolution in reverse. Carts with wheels may be more economic for moving things, once you have good roads. But if you have to calculate in the cost of the road and road maintenance then carts easily become more expensive, especially if the cart owner has to pay directly in the form of toll. You can't demand the same toll from the camel owner because they can easily find an alternative path.

    • Re:Environment (Score:5, Insightful)

      by professionalfurryele (877225) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @07:29AM (#39237971)

      This strikes me as very likely. I work on legged robotic systems and one of the mantras is 'legs are better than wheels'. Pack animals are much better suited to transporting goods over rough terrain than wheeled vehicles, especially if the wheeled vehicles don't have something like an ICE or battery. Even if you don't have a inorganic power source, on the wrong terrain a primitive wheeled vehicle is probably more of a burden to a pack animal than just putting the material you want to haul on it. Not to mention that if you don't have pack animals your power source (i.e. humans) is even worse suited to the task. In the absence of modern roads, etc. most of the places people would want to live, hunt and move between are the 'wrong terrain'.
      Moreover there is a lower hanging technological fruit, boats. Food is already concentrated on the river so why wouldn't you take advantage of natures highways before bothering to work out how to build vehicles to go on your own.
      While there are other uses for 'wheels' such as grindstones and turntables, the thing we traditionally think of as a wheel is, in most parts of the world where ancient peoples lived, useless without infrastructure. A sled is much better if it snows, or if it is flat but tends to get muddy.A boat is better if you have a river. A pack or a pack animal if the terrain is uneven.

      • by dryeo (100693)

        Also it took a long time to invent the collar for efficient pulling. As long as the pack animal was pulling the cart by a rope or straps around its neck it just couldn't put much force into moving the cart and still breath. The collar wasn't really perfected until 7th century AD in China and didn't find its way to Europe until around 920 AD, becoming universally used in the 12th century. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_collar#Development_of_the_collar [wikipedia.org].

    • The city of Çatalhöyük existed from about 7500BCE with a large population (thousands). This is apparently several thousand years older than the wheel.

    • by DarkOx (621550)

      Actually early people did not live in villages. If anything it was probably the village that created a need to have a wheel. The earliest human groups did not create villages, they were nomadic hunter gatherers. They had little need to transport anything they could not carry or ware because they went where the food was not the other way round. Paleolithic people likely had little use for a wheel. When they did need to move something there is evidence they would roll it on logs. As the object rolled of

  • by GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @03:26AM (#39236977)
    We'd either have to pay tribute to the patent maker, be sued for it, or be driving around on octagons.
  • Priorities. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Kenja (541830) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @03:27AM (#39236985)
    Its because everyone was spending their time in the bath, getting hair cuts and discussing what to do with their wealth after making leaves the official currency. What's more, the story glosses over the most important part of the process, deciding what color the wheel should be.
    • Re:Priorities. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:06AM (#39237151)

      Which wiseguy modded this offtopic?

      "And the wheel," said the Captain, "What about this wheel thingy? It sounds a terribly interesting project."
        "Ah," said the marketing girl, "Well, we're having a little difficulty there."
        "Difficulty?" exclaimed Ford. "Difficulty? What do you mean, difficulty? It's the single simplest machine in the entire Universe!"
        The marketing girl soured him with a look.
        "Alright, Mr. Wiseguy," she said, "if you're so clever, you tell us what colour it should be."

      (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Hitchhiker's_Guide_to_the_Galaxy)

      Hand in your nerd cards, etc...

      • Which wiseguy modded this offtopic?

        "And the wheel," said the Captain, "What about this wheel thingy? It sounds a terribly interesting project." "Ah," said the marketing girl, "Well, we're having a little difficulty there." "Difficulty?" exclaimed Ford. "Difficulty? What do you mean, difficulty? It's the single simplest machine in the entire Universe!" The marketing girl soured him with a look. "Alright, Mr. Wiseguy," she said, "if you're so clever, you tell us what colour it should be."

        (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Hitchhiker's_Guide_to_the_Galaxy)

        Hand in your nerd cards, etc...

        ...I was just reading it the other day, on my way to work...between the laughs, I thought to myself: "Even with all the difficulties, thanks the Lord that I am self employed".

    • by MrEricSir (398214) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:36AM (#39237311) Homepage

      Sex and alcohol were both invented before the wheel. Once we had those, everything else could wait a few thousand years.

    • by Tom (822)

      Funny, but besides the point. The bikeshed problem [wikipedia.org] doesn't surface in concrete, physical issues, it's an artifact of design, management, abstraction and complexity.

  • by xx_chris (524347) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @03:28AM (#39236989)
    Because the installed base of Luddites were still using Firefox 3.6.x?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2012 @03:32AM (#39237003)

    Bah - except you don't...
    There are many ways to construct a wheel/axle combination that don't require precision tooling...
    Use of slots rather than holes... Forked branch style notch rests.. etc
    Extend the axle past an over size slot then mount a disk tied/lashed.pegged over the end for alignment
    Older systems used a wedge arrangement in the axle to give an adjustable attachment/brace for the end bearing plate

    Durability of these however might continue to be an issue

    • by arth1 (260657) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:22AM (#39237235) Homepage Journal

      you also don't need metal tools to create a round hole. Rotate a rock in the hole and before long, you have a perfectly round hole.
      How to make the axle? Same principle, but rotate it in a hole in a rock. No, the hole doesn't have to be round, the rotation will cause the rotated object to be round. You don't even need a hole - a wedge will do.

      No rocks? No problem. Rotate a wooden peg in a hole while pouring sand on it, and you create a round hole and a round peg at the same time. The people who invented fire were almost certainly familiar with this effect.

      I think the real reason the wheel became popular so late wasn't that it wasn't invented, but because there were no roads to use them on. Wheels aren't too useful on a forest trail, flood plain, sand dune or stairs. You need a relatively flat, wide and hard surface. When we started living in towns, and traded between them, we also got roads that wheels could be useful on.

      • by deathguppie (768263) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @08:28AM (#39238215)

        The problem here is not with how to make a wheel/axle combo, and you are both probably right, a solid wheel/axle combo under a slotted bushing is the most likely way to build a cart. However the real issue is not how to create the axle or the bushing or putting the wheel on the axle. It's creating the wheel itself. With only stones, you aren't going to be making a spoked wheel. A flat wheel made of a tree cut out, again is difficult without a metal saw. They didn't go buy planks at the store and nail them together, so they had to cut it out of a solid piece of wood. Not exactly impossible to do with stone, but very, very difficult. One must take into account the amount of labor saved by building the device vs the amount of labor it takes to make it. No one is going to want to spend the time to pound out round wooden wheels with a sharp rock given the amount of time it would take. A purpose made blade that you could use to accurately cut away at a piece of wood with out splitting the grain would more than likely be incumbent upon the wheel creators to possess.

    • by Zontar The Mindless (9002) <plasticfish@info.gmail@com> on Sunday March 04, 2012 @06:13AM (#39237631)

      Bah - except you don't...
      There are many ways to construct a wheel/axle combination that don't require precision tooling...
      Use of slots rather than holes... Forked branch style notch rests.. etc...

      Just like on Fred Flinstone's car, no less.

      For that matter, who needs metal to drill holes? Archaeological literature is full of references to "stone drills".

  • by hcs_$reboot (1536101) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @03:32AM (#39237011)
    ...it doesn't take long for people to reinvent the wheel all the time.
    • by bloodhawk (813939)
      Except each attempt there always seems to be some numbnut that thinks perhaps is would work better with square edges .
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @07:34AM (#39237997) Journal

      The wheel has been reinvented quite successfully several times. The most successful reinvention was the addition of spokes using the tensile, rather than compressive, strength of the material for support. A modern bike wheel is more similar to an arch than a pillar in terms of support, while earlier wheels are the opposite - you can make a bike wheel using elastic bands as spokes. Pneumatic tyres probably also count as reinventing the wheel.

      The problem is not that people try to reinvent the wheel, the problem is that they try to make it square.

  • by arisvega (1414195) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @03:34AM (#39237017)

    That's a bit of wordplay- same story as to when the boat was invented: it was whenever someone had wood, and noticed that it can take a load (and still float)

    Now a shaft going through a firm hole that stays in place while it rotates and has a wheel attached yes, it is a different kind of invention, but the concept of "wheel" was there already- heavy things were carried by rolling them onto logs. True, not the most elegant solution, but beats the hell out of having your slaves die of exhaustion.

    Puns aside, what puzzles me more is a) why kites where not used more excessively for lifting objects [caltech.edu], especially since the sail was known (perhaps they just dinae think of it?) and b) why there was no industrial revolution after Ancient Greece since they had steam engines [wikipedia.org]

    • why there was no industrial revolution after Ancient Greece since they had steam engines [wikipedia.org]

      Because it turns out that it's not that big of a deal if your slaves die of exhaustion. There are plenty more where they came from.

    • by tsa (15680) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @03:55AM (#39237103) Homepage

      You need a lot more than a prototype of a steam engine for an industrial revolution. For starters you need a reliable way to make huge quantities of iron. For this you need enormous amounts of iron ore and coal (or another fuel). For these you need mines and the knowledge and technology to mine them. Furthermore you need other metals, wood, paint, and a whole lot of other chemicals and things, all readily available in huge quantities. If one of them misses you have a big problem. England is probably the only place in the world where all of these things were available in large quantities very close to each other.

    • by adolf (21054)

      Round heavy things were rolled by themselves long before non-round heavy things were rolled along atop of other round heavy things.

      Which happened first: Someone rolling a log around by itself, or someone moving an object atop a series of rolling logs? (Obviously, the former.)

      I submit that the "wheel", as we understand it today, arrived alongside the development of the axle. Both of them together make a fine system for transporting things, but either by itself is very lacking unless it is the wheel itself

    • Steam engines? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2012 @03:59AM (#39237121)

      Dodn't you read the wikipedia article?

      Hero of Alexandria's Aeolipile had nothing to do with "Ancient Greece", it was invented/constructed in what we call the first century AD, during the ROMAN era, about a thousand years ago. The Aeolipile was little more than an executives desk toy, made to show a principle. There was no way to take a drive off it and the system has little torque and so can't power anything.

      The Romans, let alone the Greeks before them didn't have the technology to cast and forge large iron objects essential to constructing the parts of even an ineffective steam engine. Look at the history of guns, a "similar" pressure vessel system. Gunpowder entered Europe in the Middle Ages and at the beginning it was only possible to cast small iron guns, often full of fatal (to the gunners) flaws. Some cannon were even made of wood, bound with iron hoops like a barrel, perhaps why a gun barrel is called a gun barrel...

      The technology to cast large bronze and iron artefacts, with any degree of precision only developed in the 15th-16th centuries (again mainly driven by war), and the tools needed to manipulate large masses of metal took even longer to appear, so its not surprising that what we call the industrial revolution showed its first glimmerings of life towards the end of the 16th century and matured slowly during the 17th and 18th centuries, towards the end of which, the steam engine appeared.

      Industrial revolutions depend on a lot more than a Graeco-Romano philosophical desktop toy!

    • by khallow (566160) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:33AM (#39237295)

      why kites where not used more excessively for lifting objects

      How are they going to make a kite? It's not just a sail, it also requires a lightweight frame and a strong tether. Making a kite heavy enough to lift things that are difficult for humans, is going to require a lot of fancy engineering and materials.

  • When was the flour mill invented? I mean that kind with a rotating stone wheel on top of another stone.

  • by br00tus (528477) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @03:43AM (#39237051)

    The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins has written some interesting things about early society. One thing he notes, is that there was an "original affluent society" of sorts - hunter gatherers from 40,000 years ago often worked less hours a week than, say, a worker in a Foxconn factory making iPhones, or even say a network administrator being paged at 3 AM because the network is down. From the hunter gatherers of then, to the few surviving bands in South America, Africa and Asia today, the hunter gatherers often have to work less hours per week to provide for themselves than the people with their hands on the most sophisticated technology we have available today. One may ask why the wheel should be invented in the first place.

    Another interesting thing Sahlins points out is this. Occupy Wall Street and the like protests against "the 1%", which in many cases are heirs of the type portrayed in the documentary "Born Rich" or the like. People, like say, the UK's royal family, where it has been so many generations since anyone worked, that those ancestors are lost in memory. In other words, there are people who do no work, and are living (and often living quite a high life) off of the wealth they take from the work time of those who do work. This would not be possible without surplus. If I am a hunter gatherer, and all of the work I do is to feed myself, my children, and perhaps the very elderly in my band, there is no surplus left over. But once the agricultural revolution happened, there was inevitably surplus, and thus the possibility of a class of priests, kings and such who did not need to work. Sahlins point is the agricultural revolution was not needed for this surplus to exist. Hunter-gatherers CAN work 80 hours, and support idlers who do not work. But hunter-gatherers simply don't do this - everyone able bodied works. And as many anthropologists etc. have pointed out - the agricultural revolution is a mystery, because the techniques of hunting/gathering had advanced sufficiently by 10000 years ago that they were far superior, in the short-term back then, then farming. Farming back then was a much worst way of getting food than hunting/gathering. It took many, many years to breed say teosinte grasses into maize/corn, domesticate animals and that sort of thing.

    Why should the wheel be created. I am watching the TV debates and hearing about "job creators", which I guess are rich people. Then I watch birds flying around and realize they don't need anyone or anything to create jobs for them, they are self-sufficient. It's the majority of humans who in are social structure are dependent on these wealthy "job creators" to create jobs so that they can survive. A bizarre concept which early hunter-gatherers didn't have to worry about either - they were as free as birds in being self-sufficient and not dependent on these technology-empowered "job creators". No wonder the wheel wasn't invented for so many years.

    • by tsa (15680)

      I read somewhere that hunter-gatherers where also healthier than the first settlers and had much more variety in food than even we do.

      • by RichPowers (998637) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:16AM (#39237203)

        Jared Diamond wrote a famous article to that effect: "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race [ditext.com]."

        "One straight forward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5' 9'' for men, 5' 5'' for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B. C. had reached a low of only 5' 3'' for men, 5' for women. By classical times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still not regained the average height of their distant ancestors. "

        "Compared to the hunter-gatherers who preceded them, the [Native American] farmers had a nearly 50 per cent increase in enamel defects indicative of malnutrition, a fourfold increase in iron-deficiency anemia (evidenced by a bone condition called porotic hyperostosis), a threefold rise in bone lesions reflecting infectious disease in general, and an increase in degenerative conditions of the spine, probably reflecting a lot of hard physical labor."

        • by should_be_linear (779431) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @08:51AM (#39238313)

          I think reason for this is more constant, albeit smaller, amount of food produced by agriculture. Human organisms need foon on daily basis, and if you cannot hunt/gather for 2 days, for whatever reason, your family is starving. Agriculture provides less food for more work, but variability in production is lower and doesn't depend so much on luck or skills.

    • by andymadigan (792996) <amadigan@@@gmail...com> on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:05AM (#39237139)
      Why the heck would the agricultural revolution be a mystery? The Levant had the first known sedentary culture (born of a land of "milk and honey" - seriously, there was so much food available in the immediate area that they didn't need to migrate constantly). Then, the climate changed, and the Levant starting moving towards the much more desert-like area it is today. Naturally, people who had been living a sedentary lifestyle for generations would try to preserve that and so it seems inevitable that at least a few of them would come up with a solution.

      If you think I'm making this up (or pulling it from the bible) see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natufian_culture .

      Actually, I personally believe that some form of this eventually became the "Garden of Eden" story.
    • I watch birds flying around and realize they don't need anyone or anything to create jobs for them..."

      And they can't type, post on Slashdot, discover general relativity or invent the hydrogen bomb. You're right, maybe we should just all be flying dinosaurs and to heck with overachieving.

    • "the agricultural revolution is a mystery"

      It isn't, the revolution happened because it was human habit of not putting all your eggs in one basket. It's just specialization at work. Products impossible under hunter gatherer model become possible under a class system of deeper specialization. One won out over the other because of pragmatic reasons that were obvious to the people of the times (if we had a time machine or better records we could find out). What's more smart - to go hunt wild game, or to fin

    • by EdIII (1114411)

      One may ask why the wheel should be invented in the first place.

      Because it impressed the cave bitches?

      Sorry, that was fire.

      I think the point still remains though.

    • A lot of those cultures also never developed "Western" materialism and greed. I think it's because when you live in a society where the living is pretty easy-going (compared to a European caveman), you probably don't need to be so competitive over resources.

    • "Why should the wheel be created. I am watching the TV debates and hearing about "job creators", which I guess are rich people. Then I watch birds flying around and realize they don't need anyone or anything to create jobs for them, they are self-sufficient. It's the majority of humans who in are social structure are dependent on these wealthy "job creators" to create jobs so that they can survive. A bizarre concept which early hunter-gatherers didn't have to worry about either - they were as free as birds

    • There is an advantage to agriculture when the population density grows. Hunter gatherers make use of what they find, at a rate of X square miles per person, and don't have permanent shelter. Once the population grows to N persons, the total area that must be hunted/gathered is N*X, and that's too wide to be convenient once N is large.

      Sedentary tribes can support greater populations and permanent shelter, because the food is grown close by. With bigger tribes, the competing hunter gatherer tribes can be dr

      • The Poor Laws were concerned with beggars/unemployed—i.e., those who were already in the new system and being failed by it.

        Perhaps you're thinking of the Enclosure [wikipedia.org] Acts [wikipedia.org]?

    • by khallow (566160)

      And as many anthropologists etc. have pointed out - the agricultural revolution is a mystery, because the techniques of hunting/gathering had advanced sufficiently by 10000 years ago that they were far superior, in the short-term back then, then farming.

      Why do anthropologists think there is a mystery here? Agriculture isn't that much work and I doubt it was more work than hunting/gathering was. The farmer didn't have to travel to find the food. And a bad year for a farmer wasn't going to be any better for a hunter/gatherer. In exchange, a farming community could have a higher population density and more stuff than a person could carry.

    • by thsths (31372) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:40AM (#39237339)

      > the agricultural revolution is a mystery, because the techniques of hunting/gathering had advanced sufficiently by 10000 years ago that they were far superior, in the short-term back then, then farming.

      No, it is not a mystery, and for the reasons that you gave. Farming produced a surplus (can't be that inferior then), and most of all farming meant that babies could be weaned earlier and were more likely to survive. And if that is not incentive enough to take up farming, it still leads to the fact that farmers out-bred the hunter & gatherer groups. It is all well understood and not really a mystery.

      Farming then enabled the formation of a stratified society, leading to the early high cultures. Sure, not everybody was well of, but it beats being chased by a lion, and for humankind it was a huge step forward. It was the beginning of civilisation as we know it.

    • [...] But once the agricultural revolution happened, there was inevitably surplus, and thus the possibility of a class of priests, kings and such who did not need to work. Sahlins point is the agricultural revolution was not needed for this surplus to exist. Hunter-gatherers CAN work 80 hours, and support idlers who do not work. But hunter-gatherers simply don't do this - everyone able bodied works. And as many anthropologists etc. have pointed out - the agricultural revolution is a mystery, because the techniques of hunting/gathering had advanced sufficiently by 10000 years ago that they were far superior, in the short-term back then, then farming. Farming back then was a much worst way of getting food than hunting/gathering. It took many, many years to breed say teosinte grasses into maize/corn, domesticate animals and that sort of thing.

      Why should the wheel be created.[...]No wonder the wheel wasn't invented for so many years.

      Rememeber also that any class sufficiently aloof from producing edible or tradable goods has both the time and the incentive to push forward its paramount objective, which is not as much expansion as survival. If this is considered likely, any technology that deviates from the accepted norms (i.e. outside the control of the ruling class) must be considered subversive, while all the technologies that enhance the control of the ruling class must be ecouraged vigorously. In that, the wheel is indifferent-agai

    • by gmhowell (26755)

      All these replies with various theories, and nobody has mentioned that without agriculture, there is no beer.

    • by argStyopa (232550) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @10:06AM (#39238671) Journal

      "From the hunter gatherers of then, to the few surviving bands in South America, Africa and Asia today, the hunter gatherers often have to work less hours per week to provide for themselves than the people with their hands on the most sophisticated technology we have available today. One may ask why the wheel should be invented in the first place....Then I watch birds flying around and realize they don't need anyone or anything to create jobs for them, they are self-sufficient. It's the majority of humans who in are social structure are dependent on these wealthy "job creators" to create jobs so that they can survive."

      And this is the sort of cosseted, indolent speculation that leads to absurdities like the OWS protests. Seriously - the only way that people who are by and large comfortable, healthy, well-fed, well-clothed, most college-educated, and wealthy could possibly motivate themselves to protest the 'unfairness' of a system is to contrive some sort of fantastic utopian ideal about the conditions they SHOULD be living in, and then wallow in their own self-pity about the system not conforming to this ideal.

      Part (I believe) of the problem is that the citizenry today in the West are so insulated against risk and discomfort that they quite literally have forgotten how life works.

      For the OP quoted above, he/she looks at hunter/gatherers and even birds, and actually wonders "why would have anyone bothered"?

      My answer is: you've obviously never really survival-camped. Does that seem tangential? It isn't.

      I believe that survival camping is the closest we can reasonably come to living the lives of our primitive ancestors - to appreciate what a shitty, hard existence life was and (most importantly) to appreciate what a magnificent accomplishment is today's civilization.

      (Please note, I mean camping with a minimum of frills. If your definition of "camping" involves a popup trailer, a generator, swathing yourself in modern hyperengineered synthetics and footwear, and dining on foil-packs of carefully-designed and packaged trail foods...well, you might or might not "get" what I'm saying.)

      Life - in a primitive setting - sucks. Not just "oh I can't go down and get a Latte because Starbucks is closed today" sucks, but really, really suck in a life-shortening way.

      First, for a large portion of the time you're simply not comfortable; either too hot in the day and trying to find shade, or too bloody cold. A significant amount of time you're wet - which leads to cold, but also is simply uncomfortable over long spans in its own right. Even finding a place to SIT can be a challenge. You sit on the grass in a park or your yard and think "ok, this isn't so bad"...except that there are lots of places that aren't covered by a nicely manicured cushion of grass. Ever sit on rock in Wyoming in July? Not super-comfortable. Try to find a place to sit in a forest, and usually the ground is wet or at least damp, so you try to find a comfortable section of fallen tree which can be surprisingly challenging. You may think 'comfort' is a trivial thing...but after hours and days and weeks it's bad enough; I can't even begin to fathom how nearly-constant discomfort would impact you over years. The pleasure of simply being dry, comfortable, and sitting in a comfortable chair inside a structure is almost indescribable, especially if one was recently in difficult (cold, wet) conditions.

      Second, as a indolent, probably overweight Westerner, it's probably understandable if you don't quite comprehend the grinding, overarching necessity of food and water. Generally, whatever you want to eat (barring what must have been the almost-heavenly luxury of Autumn when everything was fruiting) is as hard to get as it can accomplish. It's either trying to run away from you, kill you in turn, or protected by defenses that will at least discourage you (ie thorns, or things that make the retrieving of the food-bits prohibitively difficult or painful) or possibly kill you (like mimicry - is

  • Old wheels just transfer sliding friction to a controllably-greased axle. Wheel 1.1 is different in principle, with friction-free roller bearings in the axle. "Grandpa rolled things on logs, so put the logs in the bearings".
  • At the museum we saw they had round disks with holes that they kept on sticks and cords for hundreds of years.

    Also some kind of rolling pin thingy.

    They never clicked to the idea of the wheel tho.

  • by soundguy (415780) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:08AM (#39237161) Homepage
    Bullshit. I saw a documentary way back in the 60's that clearly showed the wheel and axle existing in the stone age. It was called The Flintstones.
  • by Daniel Phillips (238627) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:20AM (#39237221)

    Oldest example of wheel and axle ca 5100 BC [wikipedia.org]. And it is a safe bet older examples will be found. By the way, the Wikipedia article usefully points out taht the value of a wheel is greatly diminished without well constructed roads to run it on.

    • Bingo. A wheel without a road is like a computer without electricity. They should be talking about the "invention" of the road, which probably was just a factor of having enough people walking around to beat a long enough trail.
  • by Daetrin (576516) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:32AM (#39237287)
    "a task so challenging archaeologists say it probably happened only once, in one place."

    Am i missing something, or don't we know that it happened at least twice since native americans made small toys with wheels on them? Although i'd be willing to believe that it happened just once in the americas and just once in europe/africa/asia.
  • This is probably also the reason the History Channel is so confused by the ability of prehistoric peoples to move very large rocks. It turns out, it is very difficult to build a wheel and axel that is strong enough to support thousands of tons. In modern times, that means that there is a huge incentive to use smaller rocks and fasten them together. For more primitive techniques, pulling more weight just means having more people to do the pulling.

  • by identity0 (77976) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @05:22AM (#39237473) Journal

    Why is the wheel considered so important?

    I suspect it's a western-only or maybe American-only thing, as the Japanese do not seem to consider it "the most important early invention", at least to the extent Americans do.

    It was really strange seeing "the wheel" used as an example of "the beginning of technology" in a lot of American cartoons, which you don't see in Japanese ones. I kind of suspect it has something to do with American car-centric culture, and them assuming primitive wheels were as important in their time as they are today.

    What countries do you guys have experience in, and do they consider the wheel as important as Americans do?

    • by Sabriel (134364)

      In Australia, many consider the stick to be the most important early invention. The stick allowed early Australians to achieve many great things, foremost of which was to explore Australia without being immediately killed by something large and carnivorous. Death instead took about five minutes due to being killed by something small and venomous, but at least that was usually long enough to (a) beat/stab it to death with your stick and/or (b) describe it to the rest of the tribe. Also, fire (by rubbing two

  • by Marrow (195242) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:42AM (#39238551)

    Besides, hauling stuff is what slaves were for. And the reason people learned shipping/sailing first was because that was where the people lived and how they traded. I think the wheel was probably invented to deal with a problem: either piracy on the water forced goods to start moving over land. Or exotic and valuable materials needed to be hauled across areas that did not have a shipping route.
    The wheel was invented to solve a problem. Not because its cool.

  • by ffflala (793437) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @12:39PM (#39239709)
    it was wheelie hard.
  • by gatkinso (15975) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @12:57PM (#39239823)

    ...scoff at the very notion.

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