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Why Did It Take So Long To Invent the Wheel?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the i-blame-the-schools dept.

Transportation 389

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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389 comments

America (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39236953)

because it wasn't invented in america.

Re:America (-1, Flamebait)

Barsteward (969998) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237313)

No, its because it was too complicated for God to do.

Re:America (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237325)

It took so long because the Earth is only 6000 years old, not billions of years like scientists want you to think.
It was invented in 4000 B.C. and we're in year 2000. You do the math. Hint: the answer is 6000.

I think this proves once and for all that God exists and created the Earth. It also debunks evolution and probably more science conspiracies. A good day for Christianity.

Re:America (3, Funny)

symbolset (646467) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237413)

The wheel was invented several times, but the first few inventors didn't have practical implementations in mind. So it took many patent expiration generations for it to find common use.

So there you have it (5, Funny)

tsa (15680) | more than 2 years ago | (#39236959)

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

obvious (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39236965)

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

Re:obvious (4, Funny)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237343)

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

That in turn was caused by a lack of highly trained lawyers to run the patent mills, and sturdy politicians to promise support.

Re:obvious (1, Funny)

Barsteward (969998) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237347)

Has anyone told Apple, Microsoft or Oracle its not patented yet?

Re:obvious (2, Informative)

jools33 (252092) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237487)

Actually I think you'll find that Apple had rounded off corners patented a few years before the dinosaurs turned up.

So.... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39236967)

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

Environment (5, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#39236971)

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 (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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 (4, Interesting)

green1 (322787) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Environment (2)

DarwinSurvivor (1752106) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237197)

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 (3, Interesting)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237289)

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.

Re:Environment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237333)

Wouldn't wheelbarrow be easier to build?

You don't need to worry much about snugly fitting axis and with only one wheel you don't need to worry about them being parallel.

Basically, get a circular enough tree stub, bore a hole, put a stick through there, lay two other sticks on it and cover them with something to put your stuff on - surely better for small heavy loads than sleds or log rollers.

Re:Environment (2)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237377)

Wouldn't wheelbarrow be easier to build?

Than a travois? No. The latter can also cope with terrain and ground conditions that a wheelbarrow can't.

Re:Environment (2)

arkane1234 (457605) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237451)

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.

hunter gatherers (1)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237069)

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.

Re:hunter gatherers (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237321)

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:hunter gatherers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237405)

Take a stone age, pre-Roman Central Europe for example. Forests were a significant obstacle. On the other hand, the number of large animals where likely already quite low during that time because of the hunting and the climate change, with the resulting forests. The remaining big animals would be hunted in and at the oceans and transported with boats after chopping and handling. Hunter-gatherers mostly follow their game, so the hunting grounds and the settlements are usually near to each other.

Re:Environment (0)

Barsteward (969998) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237401)

Wheels? oooo there's an app for that....

Thankfully we didn't invent the patent until later (5, Funny)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | more than 2 years ago | (#39236977)

We'd either have to pay tribute to the patent maker, be sued for it, or be driving around on octagons.

Re:Thankfully we didn't invent the patent until la (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237135)

They would still be sued, as Apple has shown that you can patent shapes. And an octagon still has the look and feel of a circle, so they are doubly fucked.

Re:Thankfully we didn't invent the patent until la (1)

schn (1795404) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237143)

you could make a shape with several thousand sides and patent that

Reuleaux triangle (4, Interesting)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237481)

you could make a shape with several thousand sides and patent that

Actually, the concept was employed by Poul Anderson [wikipedia.org] in his story The three-cornered wheel, in which a constant width polygon (the simplest being a Reuleaux triangle [wikipedia.org] ) was employed to circumvent a religious prohibition on circular objects.

There is also a three-dimensional equivalent [wikipedia.org] (constant-width polyhedron). A version of the Reuleaux triangle with rounded corners is occasionally encountered in industrial design. People keep reinventing it, just like square wheels, etc.

Re:Thankfully we didn't invent the patent until la (2)

MarkRose (820682) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237357)

Hey man, wheel and su'ing go together!

Re:Thankfully we didn't invent the patent until la (1)

arisvega (1414195) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237427)

Or in one of these [youtube.com]

Priorities. (5, Funny)

Kenja (541830) | more than 2 years ago | (#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. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237087)

Nuts to the one who moderated you offtopic. I for one modded you funny as I got the reference.

42, for those of you who fail to get it.

Re:Priorities. (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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...

Re:Priorities. (1)

gadget junkie (618542) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237305)

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".

We had higher priorities (3, Funny)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237311)

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

I know, I know, pick me! (4, Funny)

xx_chris (524347) | more than 2 years ago | (#39236989)

Because the installed base of Luddites were still using Firefox 3.6.x?

Carbon Taxes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39236991)

Global Cave Warming

Because... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237001)

Steve Jobs wasn't born until 1955?

Re:Because... (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237049)

If Steve Jobs had invented the wheel, it's be a rectangle with rounded edges and perfectly round wheels would violate his patent.

Re:Because... (1)

tsa (15680) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237067)

And it had to be made from one block of aluminium. It took a long time before mankind was able to make aluminium.

Re:Because... (1)

arkane1234 (457605) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237275)

That makes as much sense as saying if Bill Gates invented a wheel, it'd be square with four colored square segments...
WTF?

Re:Because... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237441)

Bill Gates wouldn't invent a square wheel. He'd steal it, tell everyone four segment square wheels are enough for everyone, and then he'd make sure no round wheel would ever be released.

Re:Because... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237497)

Let me explain it for you. You see, a wheel is a physical object, and so is an (SPOILER ALERT) iPhone.

A Windows logo wouldn't work with the joke because it's not a physi--

Oh just fuck off, moron.

Not so fast there partner! (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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

Re:Not so fast there partner! (5, Insightful)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237235)

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.

In the IT department... (2)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237011)

...it doesn't take long for people to reinvent the wheel all the time.

Re:In the IT department... (1)

bloodhawk (813939) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237463)

Except each attempt there always seems to be some numbnut that thinks perhaps is would work better with square edges .

What do you mean by 'wheel' (5, Interesting)

arisvega (1414195) | more than 2 years ago | (#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]

Re:What do you mean by 'wheel' (2)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237077)

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.

Re:What do you mean by 'wheel' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237183)

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.

Right, because everyone likes buying the same thing again and again. Also, slaves in Greece had a much better life than slaves in America (the continent), they weren't treated that badly. From Wikipedia:

Draco's law apparently punished with death the murder of a slave; the underlying principle was: “was the crime such that, if it became more widespread, it would do serious harm to society?” The suit that could be brought against a slave's killer was not a suit for damages, as would be the case for the killing of cattle, but a (dikê phonikê), demanding punishment for the religious pollution brought by the shedding of blood. In the 4th century BC, the suspect was judged by the Palladion, a court which had jurisdiction over unintentional homicide; the imposed penalty seems to have been more than a fine but less than death—maybe exile, as was the case in the murder of a Metic.

So if a citizen killed one of his slaves by overworking him (something unlikely to happen, I believe), he would be punished for it.

From what I understand, the Greeks saw no practical use for the engine. If they did, maybe we wouldn't have had the Dark Ages and would be on Mars or beyond by now.

Re:What do you mean by 'wheel' (5, Interesting)

tsa (15680) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237103)

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.

Re:What do you mean by 'wheel' (2)

adolf (21054) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237111)

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 that is the object to be transported.

Steam engines? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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!

Re:What do you mean by 'wheel' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237271)

what puzzles me more is a) why kites where not used more excessively for lifting objects [caltech.edu], especially since the sail was known

I'd imagine it would be due to how irritating it'd be to wait for a windy day to lift your whatever the heck you're lifting. Even in the article you mentioned, they required 22mph winds. It may state that Egypt has 30mph winds, but how reliable would that be? Compared to say, getting a few hundred slaves to lift it?

Hell, even boats with sails usually have some alternate propulsion otherwise enjoy sitting around doing nothing.

Also, this test was done using modern materials. I'd like to see their results from using materials used in ancient Egypt.

Re:What do you mean by 'wheel' (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237351)

I'd also think that if someone did try kites, he stopped after the first time the wind abated for a few seconds, and his precious merchandise plummeted to the ground.

Lack of industrial revolution for rgeeek (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237279)

That was due to energy density. Our industrial revolution was accompagned and facilitated by an increase of energy density : coal usage.

Re:What do you mean by 'wheel' (3, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:What do you mean by 'wheel' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237511)

Now a shaft going through a firm hole that stays in place while it rotates

Giggity.

Rotating round thing? (2)

M8e (1008767) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237035)

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

Re:Rotating round thing? (1)

arkane1234 (457605) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237345)

I'd have to say sometime after the round wheel was invented ;)
We're talking about 100 BC for milling.
That's versus about 5000 BC for the wheel.

The REAL reason it took so long... (-1, Troll)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237039)

Inventor: "Ugh!"

Apprentice: "Ugh?"

Inventor: "Ugh! Ugh!"

Apprentice: "Ugh, Ugh?"

Inventor: "Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!"

Apprentice: "Ugh, Ugh! Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh! Ugh?"

Inventor: "Ugh! Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh! Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh! Ugh, Ugh?"

Apprentice: "Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh? Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh! Ugh, Ugh, Ugh! Ugh!"

Inventor: "Ugh!!!! Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh!! Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh!!!! Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh!!!!!!!!!!! Ugh!"

Apprentice: "Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh, Ugh? Ugh, Ugh!"

Inventor: "Ugh! Ugh! Ugh! $#@% Ugh!"

Apprentice: "Ugh? Ugh? Ugh, Ugh?"

Inventor: "Ugh!"

Apprentice: "Ugh! Ugh, Ugh!"

Inventor: "Ugh!"

Apprentice: "Ugh!"

The blackboard hadn't been invented yet.

l
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s
s

f
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.

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum."

Archeology (0)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237043)

Archeology... the science of guessing and calling it the truth if enough people agree.

Re:Archeology (1)

arkane1234 (457605) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237373)

Yes, it's much like life.
Except there are facts to prove things in archeology.

Why create the wheel? (4, Interesting)

br00tus (528477) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Why create the wheel? (1)

tsa (15680) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237125)

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

Re:Why create the wheel? (5, Interesting)

RichPowers (998637) | more than 2 years ago | (#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."

Re:Why create the wheel? (5, Interesting)

andymadigan (792996) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Why create the wheel? (1)

Daniel Phillips (238627) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237171)

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.

Re:Why create the wheel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237323)

It's great for you and me. But what about the millions of people over millenia who suffered mightily? Or the billions today who continue to suffer? If you live in North America or Europe you're almost certainly well in the 1%.

There's been an incomprehensible amount of human hardship that has given you Slashdot, and all told almost definitely not worth it. But here we are. Sucks for them...

Re:Why create the wheel? (1)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237175)

"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 find and raise domesticated animals and plants you can eat without having to expend yourself?

Re:Why create the wheel? (1)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237177)

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.

Re:Why create the wheel? (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237189)

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.

Re:Why create the wheel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237237)

Things that really matter...quality vs. quantity...thank you for this perspective...it's hard to deny.

Re:Why create the wheel? (1)

rollingcalf (605357) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237251)

"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."

These days the so-called "job creators" (with the help of the government) control or destroy so much natural resources that now most of us have to work for them to survive. From overfishing to toxic dumping to deforestation and land ownership and zoning, there isn't enough left for most people to live free as hunter-gatherers anymore.

Re:Why create the wheel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237255)

For readers interested in learning more about Sahlins' "original affluent society," see his Stone Age Economics (1972) and this handy wiki article [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Why create the wheel? (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237257)

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 driven away from the good areas which combine shelter, crops and drinkable water.

The industrial revolution (eg in England) was only made possible by the Poor Laws [wikipedia.org] , which forced people to work in approved ways to support themselves, rather than live off the land in a manner of their choosing (except for the rich, who were allowed to be idle). This created a captive workforce who lived in cities and could man the factories.

Re:Why create the wheel? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237337)

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.

Re:Why create the wheel? (4, Informative)

thsths (31372) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Why create the wheel? (1)

gadget junkie (618542) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237403)

[...] 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-against: mobility is freedom, and as such it must be persecuted. In my biased opinion, this explains part of the politicians bias against private means of travel (car) in favour of collective ones, but that's a private thought.
Think of the very concept of serfdom: it strictly relies on the concept that the serf is tied to the land. If he can pull up stakes, put all his meager belongings on a chariot and move away, it's the end of all peace. Do remeber also that an agricultural society, think ancient Egypt, has no wide use for fast transport of medium weight goods of average value, which is the wheel's ecosystem. for very valuable good of small bulk, camel or horse is still better, and for bulk, ships were and are still the cheapest alternative.

The wheel has an advantage that was not lost on some ruling classes, tough: the Sumer and Hittites used chariots in war to good effect. I daresay that expansion opportunities, more than domestic demand, drove the diffusion of the wheel. Then again, the wheel is unsuitable in some terrains: civilizations born in mountain regions would have little use of them. As far as I recall, the Incas did not use wheeled vehicles.

Even weirder (1)

jfern (115937) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237061)

Is that in the new world, the wheel and beasts of burden were only used in limited capacities. The Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas were on par with western civilizations in other ways, though.

indoor plumbing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237063)

What about indoor plumbing and sewage? I always find it hard to believe people were willing to put up with the smell of shit 24/7 up until not very long ago. The technology was already there for over a thousand years but nobody applied it to the task.

Re:indoor plumbing (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237385)

The Romans and other mediterranean societies (eg Carthage) had plumbing and modern conveniences. I think they used 3 shells though...

Re:indoor plumbing (1)

arkane1234 (457605) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237415)

That was used back in the Roman empire, but was invented many many years before them.
Of course, other countries took quite some time to implement it. Cities for example... think chamber pots being emptied into gutters. Holes were dug in the ground in many areas for public use, but of course it had to go somewhere... usually into water.
It was easy in the country to create an outhouse, not so easy when that many people are stacked in the same spot.

Because (1)

twoears (1514043) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237073)

Because they wanted to make sure they got it right the first time?

Patent that (1)

GerryHattrick (1037764) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237081)

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".

Mayans or Incans (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237099)

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.

Re:Mayans or Incans (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237241)

This isn't quite correct - they had the concept of a wheeled cart in the Americas but the terrain in said places was so rough that trying to use a cart as a practical tool would've been an exercise in masocism without advanced road-building.

There are even websites dedicated to Native American wheels (seriously).

Bullshit (2)

soundguy (415780) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237161)

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.

Re:Bullshit (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237493)

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.

I saw that documentary too. It clearly showed that the wheels certainly did not need to be round, only round-ish. And you could build the wheel (and the whole car!) out of stone and/or wood and it would still be light enough for a man to push along with his bare feet.

Seriously, does nobody do proper research these days!

It probably was invented earlier (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237191)

As time goes on and we discover new things, I put less and less trust into what others have determined to be true about the past and what goes on outside of earth (the two things we have not seen yet). There is too much speculation and a lot of the theories are based on too many other things that are theories themselves. Estimates of what matter exists and how much of it is "out there" are all over the place. some millions of times less or more then what others think.

Whenever I play Sid Meier's Civilization... (2)

lewoot (1636471) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237213)

...researching the wheel usually isn't a priority for me. Chariots are useless units.

Because somebody has their dates wrong. (3, Insightful)

Daniel Phillips (238627) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Because somebody has their dates wrong. (2)

retroworks (652802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237281)

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.

Re:Because somebody has their dates wrong. (1)

arkane1234 (457605) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237381)

It's good that someone else read wikipedia for something this rudimentary. I was starting to worry - so many people were guessing randomly...

Re:Because somebody has their dates wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237453)

Actually it says five thousand years old.. There is a difference.

Chicken and egg (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237269)

Cause they didn't have no roads, silly!

Your stated assumption that wheels were number 1 on to do list is really bogus, surely no. 1's were the blade, the club, the dart, the needle, the sack, the pot, medicine and let's not forget fire. and language.

Besides it's quite possible that simpler wheel designs were developed earlier and died out in obscurity.

Only once? (2)

Daetrin (576516) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

bi2naTch (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237355)

ASSOCIATION OF [tuxedo.0rg], Your replies rather

Megaliths (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237399)

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.

Maybe Not (1)

glorybe (946151) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237419)

How long have people used grinding on jewels? It is true that life without good tools has limits but a bit of sand and a drop or two of water can be used to cut a precise hole in stone even if wood is used to push against the sand slurry. And once one has a nice hole in a rock that hole can be used to grind and axle of hardwood or even of stone. I suspect that the wheel was not valued as there are so few natural places that a wheel can be used. Sand, mud, loam, fertile soil, rocks or even hills and gullies all do a pretty fair job of making a wheel useless. I wonder if there are old drawings of cooking where an animal is turned on a spit over a fire. That is a crude form of a wheel and if a primitive person could understand cooking by rotating a pole over a fire then he probably understood the concept could be used on the ground to move things about. One thing that is obvious is that ancients all over the world had great skills at moving large, difficult objects. I don't think we are out of design battles at all in striving to find better ways to move objects over land.

Why is the wheel considered so important? (4, Interesting)

identity0 (77976) | more than 2 years ago | (#39237473)

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?

The Marketing department (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39237531)

The marketing department just couldn't figure out what colour people wanted the wheel to be. (To be honest, the audience included loads of telephone sanitisers)

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