Origin of the Wheel | 511 Contra Costa

Origin of the Wheel


Starting this week, we’ll be featuring a blog post every week about the history of transportation. Why? Because transportation is cool.
Let’s start off with the most basic aspect of modern transportation–the wheel. What is a wheel? According to Dictionary.com, it is: “A circular frame or disk arranged to revolve on an axis, ason or in vehicles or machinery.” According to popular vernacular, aka UrbanDictionary.com, it is: “Trying to, or the act of picking up a girl.”
For the purposes of this blog–transportation–we’ll be sticking with the more technical definition and leave UrbanDictionary for another day.
So the wheel is basically the backbone upon which basically all modern forms of transportation have been built. Bicycles and cars obviously run on wheels, planes need wheels for lift-off and landing, rocket ships need wheels to move to their launching pads. In fact, the heavier the object it seems, the more wheels become necessary to move it.
The earliest dated depiction of a wheeled contraption is from a clay pot found in Poland, dated 3500–3350 BC, after which it spread from Central Europe across Eurasia. Chariots continued the popularization of wheeled vehicles once the spoked wheel was invented, which replaced the simpler wooden wheel and axle. Undoubtedly, the use of wheels in vehicles increased after smooth roads became more prevalent.
The wheel and axle makes work easier by shifting the weight of the object being moved from the wheel to the axle, so that it is balanced and maintained on the axle. The operator therefore endures less stress because the weight is distributed evenly. (If you have a better description or want to explain the physics in more detail, don’t hesitate to comment on this post!)
In the Middle Ages, people apparently had much better imaginations than we do, and the wheel was used as a form of capital punishment. The condemned were tied onto the wheel and beaten with a club or cudgel, the gaps in the wheel were to allow the cudgel to break through. In France, the victims were stretched on a cartwheel and their limbs were broken on an iron bar as the wheel revolved.
Other early uses for wheels include children’s toys, spinning pottery, waterwheels, and agriculture.
The wheel has also come to represent many symbols in different cultures and religions:

  • The Gauls, a Celtic tribe in the French-speaking region of Europe, used the symbol (a circle divided into six equal parts) as an attribute of the Taranis, the god of thunder. It was called the sun wheel.
  • Tibetans’ world wheel use the symbol of a circle divided into six equal parts with circle in its center with the outer rim divided into 12 parts. The inner circle band is divided into a light and dark halves.
  • The wheel of the year, a circle divided into eight equal parts, a Wiccan symbol that supposedly contains the key practices of Wicca: the four directions, the four elements, the cycle of life, and the Wiccan calendar of holy days.
  • Alchemists used the six-part circle to stand for malachite, an emerald-green mineral (which contained copper).
  • The wheel was used by the medieval goddess Fortuna who spun it at random to change the fate of hapless individuals. Her spinning of the wheel symbolized Fate’s capricious nature.
  • Tarot decks contain a wheel of fortune card modeled after the concept of the goddess Fortuna. The card’s interpretations are:
  1. Turning point; Opportunities; Possibilities
  2. Destiny; Fate; Superior Forces; Movement
  3. Development; Activity; Surprises; Expansion
  4. Sudden Events; Speed; New Developments; Life Cycles
  5. Interpretation; Sudden Change; Discention; Approachability

Photo Credits: Rickydavid

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