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Author Topic: Wheels of change?  (Read 6329 times)

Offline Hadrian

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Wheels of change?
« on: 04/07/2006 23:46:44 »
How different would our history be if we had not invented the wheel?

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« Last Edit: 10/07/2006 23:02:59 by Hadrian »


 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #1 on: 05/07/2006 05:50:40 »
Very different.

Next question.

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another_someone

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #2 on: 05/07/2006 22:06:37 »
There are two issues the historic context, and what the world would be like today without wheels.

The first question is, what is a wheel?

OK, at its simplest, it is a circular rim somehow attached to an axle.  But what about a windmill, that has 4 spokes attached to an axle, or the gears which connect that axle to the grindstone.  Could either the sails be considered an incomplete wheel, or the gears themselves be considered as wheels with teeth attached.  What about rollers, the probable precursor to wheels are they allowed?

Today, we could probably redesign most rotary machine functions as reciprocating engines of some sort, although it would create a very different set of machines to that which we have today.  We could use walking machines instead of wheeled machines, or even tracked vehicles (or is a track regarded as merely a distorted wheel?).  The problem is that walking machines are necessarily more complex than wheeled vehicles, and so would have been beyond the capabilities of our ancestors.

The first pre-cursors to the wheel, rollers, would have been used to help move heavy stones (and alike) around.  Without them, it is open to question whether many of the megaliths that exist would have been built (although clearly there are some people who have speculated upon other mechanisms, closer to the notion of reciprocating engines, might have been used).  Later, wheels were used for chariots in warfare.

Since wheels were used exclusively for land transport, it would clearly have given maritime transport a greater advantage, but for most of human history, maritime transport in any case had the greater advantage of land transport.  It would have taken far longer (if ever) for the transition of power from the Mediterranean to Northern Europe, since that transition required overland trade across Europe.



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Offline neilep

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #3 on: 05/07/2006 22:10:06 »
Do you think the invention of the wheel was inevitable ?

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Offline rosy

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #4 on: 05/07/2006 23:41:52 »
Well, I have heard, although I may be misinformed, that up to the point at which the europeans arrived wheels were more or less unheard of in the americas.. so maybe not inevitable.
 

Offline gecko

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #5 on: 06/07/2006 07:42:09 »
i think it would have been inevitable. there are so many "natural" wheels and its easy to see rocks roll down hills and get ideas.
 

another_someone

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #6 on: 06/07/2006 12:17:46 »
Technology develops in an evolutionary manner, just as any other complex system.  If the pre-conditions are right, and the benefit is there for the taking, then sooner or later someone will invent it.

Gecko mentions that many things roll in nature.  This is true, and would indicate that we probably would have developed roller, which are the precursors to wheels, but would we have invented wheels?

Rosy mentions that she believes that wheels were not widely used in the Americas before the arrival of Europeans.  This is very plausible, because the first documented use of wheels in the old world was for horse drawn vehicles, and the native horses in the Americas had been pushed into extinction (very probably hunted to extinction), and hence there was no basis upon which to develop horse drawn vehicles.  I have no doubt that there probably was some invention of the wheel in the early Americas, just as the Greeks had invented the steam engine many centuries before the time was right for its widespread adoption in Europe.  But, because the early Americans lacked an animal to pull a wheeled cart, the wheel would have remained as much a curiosity as the steam engine was to the early Greeks, rather than having become an everyday tool.

The first wheeled carts were also not capable of covering rough terrain.  This made them well suited to flat desert warfare, but since the height of technology in the early Americas was in more mountainous terrain, it would have been less of an advantage to them even if they did have an animal with which to pull the chariots.

What is probably at least as interesting is the apparent absence of maritime technology in the Americas.  No doubt that this was because of the very different nature of the geography on the Americas, that provided far fewer opportunities for maritime empires than did the old world.



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Offline Hadrian

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #7 on: 10/07/2006 23:06:19 »
Would we be still be maritime based or could we have developed other forms of mass transport

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another_someone

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #8 on: 11/07/2006 00:13:59 »
quote:
Originally posted by Hadrian
Would we be still be maritime based or could we have developed other forms of mass



Prior to the advent of the railway, we developed an extensive network of canals as a means of heavy goods transport.  It never took on the role of mass passenger transport because we already had an extensive network of stage coaches, but one could speculate on whether the canal network could have accommodated large scale passenger transport in the absence of the stage coach.

The more interesting question is what we would have done in those cases where wheels are used for something other than transportation e.g. spinning wheels for the manufacture of cloth.

Even if the wheel had not first been invented for the horse drawn vehicle, I cannot see that we could have become an industrialised nation (even to the level that we had become in the middle ages) without the use of the wheel in many contexts.

One question I do have of Rosy she has said she believed that the early Americans did not use wheels is she merely saying that they did not use wheels in any context, or merely that they did not use wheels within their transportation systems?



George
 

Offline eric l

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #9 on: 05/08/2006 19:46:01 »
In Belgium and the Netherlands, barges were quite extensively used for passenger transport.  These barges were horse drawn, and there were regular services between cities, like one trip up and one trip down every day of the week.  The "trekschuiten" (drawn barges) were very much in favour because they were much more confortable than stagecoaches at the time (let us say up to the middle of the 19th century).  One could also have his meals and drinks on board, and did not depend on the quality (or lack of it) of service in the inns along the road.  And there was less danger of being held up and robbed.
There are already some replicas of these drawn barges, although generally of the more luxury types like the state barge of the city of Ghent.  But there are projects to built more of them, to be used as cruise barges.  
The barges were slower than the stage coaches, they travelled generally at a walking speed.  The arrival of the railroads meant the end of the passenger barges.
 

Offline eric l

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #10 on: 05/08/2006 19:52:45 »
quote:
Originally posted by another_someone



The first wheeled carts were also not capable of covering rough terrain.  This made them well suited to flat desert warfare, but since the height of technology in the early Americas was in more mountainous terrain, it would have been less of an advantage to them even if they did have an animal with which to pull the chariots.




George




If wheeled carts were so useful in flat desert warfare, how do you explain that nomads in the Sahara desert do not use them, but rely almost exclusively ont the camel !
« Last Edit: 07/08/2006 18:30:11 by eric l »
 

another_someone

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #11 on: 07/08/2006 19:22:13 »
quote:
Originally posted by eric l
If wheeled carts were so useful in flat desert warfare, how do you explain that nomads in the Sahara desert do not use them, but rely almost exclusively ont the camel !



Different needs.  Chariots were to carry archers and other armed forces rapidly through the field of battle they were never used for long distance endurance transport.

Camels are not often used in warfare.  In any case, the chariot came into use before the advent of stirrups, which allowed much more flexibility to the horseback rider, and allow his hands to be freed up for weapons use.

Camels were actually introduced into Egypt by the Persians, so the wheeled chariot probably preceded the use of the domesticated camel in Egypt.

Camels can, at best, travel 8 to 9 mph with a rider not exactly fast in comparison to the speed of a horse (although earlier horses were probably quite a bit slower than their modern counterparts).  Furthermore, a chariot could contain more fire-power, since it could contain two or three armed riders, as against only a single on a camel.  It is also possible to yoke two or four horses together on a chariot, while I have never heard of camels being able to be yoked together.

Clearly, the camel, as with the elephant, has been used in warfare, and it would be wrong to say any one animal has all the advantages, just as no one weapons system is ever the ideal for all situations.



George
 

Offline eric l

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #12 on: 08/08/2006 14:11:37 »
Hi, George,
Of course there is quite a difference between warfare and transportation.  But there is another point you (and I) overlooked.  At the age when the wheel was invented / developped Egypt was probably not a desert, and neither was Persia.  In fact, Egypt was the main supplier of grain to the Roman Empire !
And wheels are bound to work better on flat compact soil than on loose sand.
 

another_someone

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #13 on: 08/08/2006 19:01:43 »
quote:
Originally posted by eric l

Hi, George,
Of course there is quite a difference between warfare and transportation.  But there is another point you (and I) overlooked.  At the age when the wheel was invented / developped Egypt was probably not a desert, and neither was Persia.  In fact, Egypt was the main supplier of grain to the Roman Empire !
And wheels are bound to work better on flat compact soil than on loose sand.



I don't think you are correct in that.

Yes, Libya (which, to the Romans, meant the entire of North Africa) was the grain basket of the Roman Empire, but I thought that the Sinai was already desert, as was much of the area either side of the Nile (hence why the Nile was so important to the Egyptians).  It is true that the Nile delta was probably broader, but still, beyond the reaches of the delta and the annual floods, I think them as now, it was substantially arid.

True, if you go back 8,000 years, you are basically correct, but this is a historic period that long predates the Egyptian chariot usage.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predynastic_Egypt
quote:

Climate changes and/or overgrazing around 8000 BC began to desiccate the pastoral lands of Egypt, eventually forming the Sahara (c. 2500 BC), and early tribes naturally migrated to the Nile river where they developed a settled agricultural economy and more centralized society.





George
 

Offline eric l

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #14 on: 09/08/2006 09:13:46 »
George, you're quite right.  But aren't we drifting away from our wheels.
Anayway, this shows again than when "no man is an island", no topic in science is either.  Even an item that seems to deal exclusively with mechanics has links to history, geography and many other branches of knowledge.
One thing I keep wondering about is this :  which came first :  wheels for transport or wheels as stationary machines (which would be the potter's wheel).  And can the spindle that is still used by some nomad tribes to spin wool from their sheep or goats, or the bow-lathe, be considered as "proto-wheels" ?  Both are machines to convert a to-and-fro movement into a rotational movement.
« Last Edit: 09/08/2006 09:15:20 by eric l »
 

another_someone

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #15 on: 10/08/2006 01:54:57 »
quote:
Originally posted by eric l
George, you're quite right.  But aren't we drifting away from our wheels.
Anayway, this shows again than when "no man is an island", no topic in science is either.  Even an item that seems to deal exclusively with mechanics has links to history, geography and many other branches of knowledge.



Probably not that far off, since it was a discussion about wheels in a historic context, and so the historic environments that provided the imperative for the development of the wheel was probably perinent.

quote:

One thing I keep wondering about is this :  which came first :  wheels for transport or wheels as stationary machines (which would be the potter's wheel).



The development of the potters wheel and vehicular wheels are both over a similar region of time, and both have a great deal of uncertainty about their exact first introduction.

On balance, it does seem that the potters wheel probably pre-dates vehicular wheels, but there seems no certainty in this.

One very interesting reference is:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronocice_pot
quote:

he Bronocice pot is a ceramic pot incised with the earliest known image of what may be a wheeled vehicle. It dates from just after 4000 BC, and is firmly attributed to the Funnelbeaker archaeological culture. The pot was discovered at an archaeological site near the Polish village of Bronocice, and is housed in a museum in Krakow.

Historical implications


The image on the pot might imply the existence of wagons in Poland ca. 4000 BC. They were presumably drawn by cattle (barely tamed aurochs at that point in time), because sheep or goats could not have pulled something heavy. It raises questions about the original invention of the wheel, because a four-wheeled wagon is a relatively complicated use of a wheel.



The interpretation of the inscription still seems somewhat in doubt, and would certainly be totally outside of the time span or geographic area where on most commonly expects early wheeled vehicles.

Unfortunately, there is no mention of whether the pot that was so inscribed was made on a wheel.

quote:

  And can the spindle that is still used by some nomad tribes to spin wool from their sheep or goats, or the bow-lathe, be considered as "proto-wheels" ?  Both are machines to convert a to-and-fro movement into a rotational movement.



I am not sure that early spindles did convert to and fro motion (I think you might be thinking of a spinning wheel which is different from a spindle).   The following is a spindle:


In fact, you might even by that argument suggest that rubbing a stick between the palms of your hand (as you might do for a crude drill, or to make a fire) is a conversion of the linear energy of your hands into the rotary energy of the stick.



George
 

Offline Mjhavok

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #16 on: 10/08/2006 11:51:23 »
I don't think it's possible that we wouldn't have made the wheel. I think we would have had to live in some kind of environment in which the wheel wasn't viable. However I don't know what that would be.

Steven
 

Offline eric l

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #17 on: 10/08/2006 13:53:14 »
About the spindle :  I remember some documentary (it may have been an episode in Bronowki's "Accent of Man") where nomad women seemed to be playing with a kind of yoyo, but where actually spinning wool with it.
 

another_someone

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Re: Wheels of change?
« Reply #18 on: 10/08/2006 16:14:09 »
quote:
Originally posted by eric l

About the spindle :  I remember some documentary (it may have been an episode in Bronowki's "Accent of Man") where nomad women seemed to be playing with a kind of yoyo, but where actually spinning wool with it.



The spindle might look a little like a yo-yo on the end of a piece of wool except it wont be running up and down the wool, because its axis of rotation is vertical and not horizontal.



George
 

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Re: Wheels of change?
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