A prehistoric pot found in Poland and a wooden slab pulled out of a Slovenian marsh are the earliest evidence of wheels in Europe.
When The Simpsons parodied 2001: A Space Odyssey, the alien obelisk inspires three key human inventions: fire, weapons, and the wheel.
Humans weren’t the first to control fire – that achievement goes to Homo erectus. Weapons too come well before humans were around; Homo heidelbergensis stuck spears into prey several hundred thousand years ago. But wheels… that’s all on Homo sapiens. We as a species can take credit for that one.
Potters’ wheels date back to early Mesopotamian civilisations, but the evidence for wheeled transport is a bit more recent. One of the first depictions of this radical new technology appear on a ceramic object known as the Bronocice pot. That’s it pictured above.
The Bronocice pot is notable for a simple inscription. Four circles surround a distinctly cart-like shape. The circles are in pairs, joined as if by a long pole or axle. A fifth circle sits in the centre, cargo or a seat. The pot is about five and a half thousand years old. It’s the oldest extant depiction of a cart.
For actual wheels, rather than pictures of them, we turn to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. In 2002, archaeologists pulled a wooden object out of the marshes just south of the city. It was clearly a wheel, with a hole for an axle. And radiocarbon dating puts it as more than five thousand years old. The Ljubljana Marshes Wheel is the oldest wooden wheel in the world.