Who invented the wheel?

Aug 2018
For a while it was generally thought that wheels and wheeled vehicles originated in Mesopotamia, but the evidence doesn't actually support this. What do you think?

“the present evidence for early wheeled transport does not support the traditional belief in the oriental invention of wheel and wagon. Full-size wheels and axles from central and eastern Europe clearly pre-date the earliest wheels from the Near East, and the indirect evidence (models, depictions) does not allow for a temporal gradient indicating diffusion ex oriente. Two alternative hypotheses remain. Innovation could have happened roughly simultaneously, but independently, in several regions (the polycentric model). … Alternatively, there was only one innovation centre. Following Maran (2004b), the late Tripolye culture (around 3700-3500 BC) in the steppe area north-west of the Pontic Sea [in Ukraine] is the most likely candidate for inventing wheeled transport, and the steppe cultures north of the Black Sea show well-documented relations to south-eastern Europe. Further eastward, future research is needed o clarify the contacts between the late Tripolye and Maikop cultures, but the latter may have played a crucial role in transferring the wagon techno-complex to Mesopotamia (Maran 2004b, 438). The deposition of wooden wagons in graves continued with the Yamnaya (Pit Grave) culture (c.3200-2500 BC), which, according to Russian archaeological tradition, is clearly Bronze Age. A considerable number of remarkably well preserved wagon burials in huge mounds (kurgans) have been excavated between Kuban, the lower Don, and the southern Ural mountains (Gej 2004; Tureckij 2004), dating between 3200 and 2500 BC (Tureckij 2004, 197).”

Fowler, C. ed., The Oxford Handbook of Neolithic Europe, 2015, p.113.

“The earliest discoveries of actual wheels in Mesopotamia come from the first half of the third millennium BC - more than half a millennium later than the finds from the Kuban region [in southern Russia].”

Baumer, C., The History of Central Asia: The Age of the Steppe Warriors, 2012, p.90.

“Late Tripolye is the only culture to show evidence of wagons predating 3500 BCE (Burmeister 2004)"

Parpola, A., The Roots of Hinduism, the Early Aryans and the Indus Civilization, 2015, p.43.

‘Proto-Indo-European *kʷékʷlo-bears striking similarity to the words for vehicles in Sumerian gigir, semitic *galgal-, and Kartvelian *grgar. With the putative origin of wheeled vehicles set variously to the Pontic-Caspian, Transcaucasia or to Sumer, we may be witnessing the original word for a wheeled vehicle in four different language families. Furthermore, as the Proto-Indo-European form is built on an Indo-European verbal root *kʷel-, “to turn, to twist”, it is unlikely that the Indo-Europeans borrowed their word from one of the other languages. [...] Sumerian gigir, inscribed in the cuneiform tablets of the third millennium BCE, may indeed provide the earliest written testimony for an originally PIE word.”

Parpola, A., The Roots of Hinduism, the Early Aryans and the Indus Civilization, 2015, p.43.

"The image on the Bronocice pot [from Poland] is the oldest well-dated representation of a four-wheeled vehicle in the world.[4]"

Bronocice pot - Wikipedia

“The earliest evidence for a device whose function corresponds to that of a potter’s wheel form part of the archaeological record of a workshop in Moldova, Varvarovka, dated to around 4000 BC (Gimbutas 1991). Evidence for the use of the potter’s wheel in Mesopotamia is slightly younger (Nissen 1988).

‘Roots of Ancient Greek Civilization: The Influence of Old Europe’, Haarmann 2014.

“Through examining the changes in the ceramic technology of Pre-Cucuteni-Tripolye (Neolithic) through Chalcolithic Cucuteni-Tripolye culture, Ellis is able to show the beginings of ranked society. In the Neolithic pottery is made by individuals or individual households. With the Chalcolithic pottery begins to be painted and the designs and shapes become more standardized through time. As up-draught kilns are used, ceramics can be consistently fired at high temperatures with a slow cool down creating stronger ceramics. Chalcolithic vessels also show evidence of being created on potter's wheels and often in separate pottery workshops.”

‘The Cucuteni-Tripolye culture: study in technology and the origins of complex society’, Linda Ellis, 1984

“The chariot, the first wheeled vehicle designed entirely for speed, first appeared in the graves of the Sintashta culture, in the southern Ural steppes, about 2100 BCE.”

Anthony, D., The Horse, The Wheel, and Language, 2007, Chapter 17.


Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
Las Vegas, NV USA
The first true wheel came with the joining of wheels to an axle. Pottery wheels preceded the wheel-axle combination. You also have to figure how to let the wheels turn freely under a vehicle. Finally to freely go from three wheels to four to move freight around turns even eluded the Romans. That's why they went out of their way to build straight roads.
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Forum Staff
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
The real answer is ... a lazy guy. Wolves don't chase preys driving chariots ... they run!

If they can ... well ... humans avoid to run ...