The invention of the humble Wheel

The invention of the humble wheel

If humanity could be defined and separated from the rest of the animal kingdom through a single word, that word would be curiosity.

Some may say it is intelligence that sets us apart, or ingenuity, or even our strive for something higher; a nobler cause that sits degrees above the work, eat, sleep, and repeat cycle.

However, under closer examination, it is curiosity that shines as the most vital attribute of the human race.

Take yourself back for a moment to ancient times, well before the era of smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi, and video conferencing. You are living in ancient Greece 4th century BC. Great philosophers like Aristotle and Plato are gathering and the Great Temple of Asclepius is about to be finished.

However you, a simple stonemason, are far less excited about its construction than the average citizen. Unfortunately, you are among the thousands of workers who have been breaking their backs using horses, mules, and donkeys to transport materials from the quarry to the temple site.

You are not a worshipper but are simply trying to feed your family, and this project is like any other to you (if only you knew how many tourist dollars this structure would one day bring).

It is a hot autumn day and once again you are making the arduous journey back from the quarry. The platform built from simple wood is holding up what little amount of stone you and your fellow workers are actually able to leverage on top of your horses. These stones are a bit different from your usual delivery though. They are sections from a pillar that will grace the temples entrance hall. They have been carved to be as round as possible so that visitors to the great Temple can admire its grandeur.

However, as you are daydreaming about the bone broth your wife may be simmering at home over the open fire, the cliff edge suddenly breaks away beneath the feet of one of your horses. In a flash you rush to its aid, dragging it by some ropes into a safe direction. You have been traveling along a shallow cliff and the limestone can sometimes be extremely brittle.

Despite you being able to save the horse and the majority of the load, one of the stones has come loose and is now rolling down the hill at full speed. For a moment things become very quiet in your mind. Other workers are shouting around you and starting to make the descend towards the lost stone. But you do not see the tragedy unfolding. You only notice the way the disk moves. Its simple yet effective way of movement manages to cover a great distance in such a short amount of time simply because it has no straightened edges to slow its descent. You are in awe. You know something great is beginning to form in your mind. If only this shape could be harnessed to ease your life and the transportation of heavy goods over long distances. You do not yet know it, but your curiosity coupled with the necessity of the hard labour has just resulted in the invention of this life changing contraption that will come to be known as the wheel.

While there is some discrepancy, it is largely agreed by experts that the wheel finds its origin in ancient Greece, where it was used for wheelbarrows to transport heavy equipment (Smithsonian, 2009). Its discovery has been likely the most pivotal innovation ever, as even the vehicles we use today, would not be possible without this simple yet necessary invention.