Why didn't humans develop bikes?

The invention of the wheel - and its importance

The wheel is one of the most important inventions of mankind. But how did it happen? And why was it considered a useless toy in America for so long?

Panels from the Mesopotamian city of Uruk, probably made around 3500 BC. BC, were long considered the earliest evidence of the use of rolling vehicles. However, new finds and improved dating show that at around the same time there are references to the use of wagons in many places in Central Europe, for example in Schleswig-Holstein, in southern Poland, in the central Danube region. The question now is: Was the wheel invented in several places at the same time - or was it a one-time invention that spread very quickly?

In any case, it is not an obvious invention. Humans have lived without a bike for hundreds of thousands of years, presumably also because there is no role model: The free rotation of a disk cannot be copied anywhere, nature has produced nothing comparable.

Was there a role model for the bike?

The fact that it was around 3500 BC speaks for the invention, which took place in several places at the same time. There are already many technologies that can be combined. A possible source of inspiration: the potter's wheel, the earliest forms of which are dated to an age of at least 6000 years. And sledges can also serve as a model, the loading area of ​​which is pulled across the floor.

What speaks against the simultaneous invention is that in the rest of the world the wheel has probably only been invented once more: in today's Mexico around the year 600 AD. Why should it then, of all places, in early Western Asia and in Europe? have been designed four times in parallel?

Invention spreads west

For this reason, it seems more plausible to many researchers that the wheel and wagon have spread suddenly from their previously unknown place of birth - that is, in the course of a few centuries. Real wagons are unlikely to go on a journey, rather the concept is exported to mount round discs under a loading area using axles and to let animals pull all of this.

Perhaps it is nomadic inhabitants of the steppes in today's Ukraine who are the first to build such vehicles with wheels - in any case, in the treeless landscape there are the conditions that make the use of the car appear sensible in the first place. From there the innovation spreads, also to the west, to Central Europe.

It is true that for a long time the wagon can hardly be used as a means of transport over long distances in the forest landscapes there. But from around 3500 BC Many regions are changing: Because the farmers are clearing and cultivating ever larger arable land. New applications for the wagon will soon emerge - for example, to bring harvested crops to the village or to fetch wood from the forests that are now further away.

"Take the bike from us - and little will be left"

In any case, the wheel quickly became one of the most important inventions. “Take the bike from us - and little will be left,” said the physicist Ernst Mach in 1883. “It all disappears. From the spinning wheel to the spinning mill, from the lathe to the rolling mill. ”The wheel - a key to technical development.

But why does it flop on the American continent? The inhabitants of Mexico simply lack draft animals that they could have harnessed to a wagon: their largest domesticated animal is the dog. So they make rolling images of animals, with wheels and axles, which presumably serve ritual purposes. But they apparently do not build functional cars. Ultimately, the bike remains technical knick-knack there.

GEO CHRONICLE is about the great moments of humanity. The series of booklets follows the idea of ​​showing the ingenuity of the human species chronologically and on a topic at a time. This article comes from the edition "100 ingenious inventions".

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