This website explores a little
known aspect of Pre-Columbian America: that the cultures and
civilizations, from Mexico to Chile, never developed the use of
the wheel as it was used in Eurasia and Africa.
However, that is not to say
that the wheel was unknown! Far from it. Cultures
throughout Ancient America not only knew of the wheel, but made
use of it in various ways.
Pre-Columbian Wheeled Objects:
Pre-columbian Wheeled Toy
- Pipil Wheeled Dog
Figurine - Ceramic - 10 to 40 cm. in height.
- Early Post Classic - Collection of Banco Agricola Comercial de El
Pre-columbian Wheeled Dog
Cihuatan, El Salvador
Pre-columbian Wheeled Ceramic "Cat" from Veracruz date 550-950CE (AD) -
Location of the Prehispanic Remojadas
of Veracruz Mexico
Pre-columbian Wheeled Toy Dogs
A Pre-columbian Wheeled Monkey Effigy from Tierra Blanca region of Veracruz, Late Classic (500-800 C.E.)
Prehispanic Wheeled Dog From Tres Zapotes
Wheeled Ceramic Monkey - Veracruz. clay.
length 13.5 cm. Traces of stucco on the
wheels. The wooden axles are modern and the wheels may be from
Pre-columbian Wheeled Ceramic Dog
Asserted to be from Nopiloa, Veracruz
Veracruz Wheeled Jaguar - ceramic
clay with traces of stucco - length 17.0 cm.
Rate This Website?
Pre-columbian Wheeled Cat
Wheeled Dog or Cat from Veracruz
A.D. 450-650 - Ceramic with post-fire
applied paint; 2 7/8 x 4 in. (7.3 x 10.16 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Clay wheel from Tula. Diameter 5 cm.
Wheeled animal effigy body from Tula
perforated leg. Length 9 cm.
Wheeled animal effigy fragment from Tula
stub and perforated leg. Length 7cm. (Location #2)
Mexico National Museum of
Pieces of wheeled objects from
Cojumatlan, Micoacan, Mexico
The Giant Stone Spheres Of Costa Rica
In publishing free
websites, we rely on the help and support of
our visitors. Can you contribute to
our website? Do you have photos that
you would like to share? Can you
improve our information? Would you like
to advertise? Can you visit a
sponsor's website? Can you make a small
donation (a major portion will be given to help
protect the Nazca lines and support Ancient
research). Thank you for your visit to
to Mrs. Justin Kerr for permission to use/link to photos.
Locations where Wheeled objects have been found in
Mesoamerica On Map
2 Tula, Hidalgo
Estado de Mexico
7 Cihuatan, El
8 Cocle, Panama
9 Valley of
Oaxaca (not on map)
Tenenepango (not on map)
Cojumatlan, Micoacan, Mexico (not on map)
Richard Diehl of the Department of Anthropology. University of
Alabama, and Margaret Mandeville, Department of Anthropology,
University of Missouri-Columbia:
For all an archaeologist's or
anthropologist's professional training in how ancient societies
organize themselves with 'appropriate technologies', it is not
easy to grasp how very different those ancient civilizations
were from any society we have experienced. Nowhere is this
clearer than in Mesoamerica, where cities and empires had no
need of the 'basics' of urban life as we know it. One of those
'basics' is wheels, discussed here in the sole, small context in
which they are commonplace in pre-Columbian America.
One of the major
differences between the ancient civilizations of Eurasia and
those of the Americas was the absence of wheeled transportation
in the latter. Ironically, the principle of using wheels to
facilitate horizontal movement was familiar to at least some
peoples of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica; and the existence of small
clay animal effigies mounted on wheels - 'toys', as they are
sometimes called - has been known since the 19th century.
Over 100 years ago, Desire
Charnay reported the first Mesoamerican wheeled animal effigy (Charnay
1882 ). While excavating at Tenenepango on the slopes of
the volcano Popocatepetl near Mexico City, he found a small dog
effigy with perforated legs associated with four wheels. He
argued that the wheels were indeed wheels rather than spindle
whorls, a conclusion accepted by everyone who has examined both
types of artefact since then. Charnay's discovery was ignored or
rejected outright, perhaps, as Ekholm (1946: 223) suggests,
because of his exaggerated claims and false conclusions on many
other topics. The issue of wheels in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica
remained dormant for 50 years. Linne, for example, recovered at
least two wheeled animal fragments in his Xolalpan excavations
at Teotihuacan, recognized them as such in his field notes, but
did not mention them in his published report (S. Scott, pers.
comm., 1982). The issue was reopened in the 1940s with
finds of wheeled effigies at Tres Zapotes, Veracruz, and the
Pavon site at Panuco, Veracruz,
reported in American Antiquity (Ekholm 1946) and a 'Mesa Rodante'
in Cuadernos Americanos (Caso et 01. 1946). Almost all the
numerous articles published since (e.g. Linne 1951; Lister 1947;
von Winning 1950; 1951; 1960) describe objects in private
collections whose lack of provenience and association data make
them little more than interesting curiosities. The fullest
recent discussion is a monograph (Boggs 1973) describing nine
examples found in EI Salvador and summarizing then current
knowledge about Mesoamerican wheeled animals.
The principle of the wheel was
known to ancient Americans, but in the absence of suitable draft
animals had no economic importance.
yielded more wheeled figurines than any other site in
Mesoamerica. Most depict dogs (like this one at left), pumas, or
Location #4: A wheeled deer (or
perhaps dog), in the Remojadas style.
This ceramic figurine also functions as a whistle (ocarina).
Height: 7 in. (18 cm); length: 8 in (21 cm) - dated 600-800CE
#6:Drawing of pottery dog-like animal effigy with and ornamental
crown from Tres Zapotes, Veracruz, dated ca. 100-200CE
(AD). These wheeled toys were able to be pulled by cord,
but believed to be a funeral offering since they typically show
no wear from use.
Asserted to be from Nopiloa,
Veracruz 300-600CE (AD)
Collection - provenience unauthenticated)
Pre-columbian Wheeled Cat
Pre-columbian Wheeled Animal
What is a wheel?
A wheel is a Wooden, Stone, or metal disc attached at its
central point to an axle or pivot in such a way that it can
rotate freely. Typically this is to allow a vehicle or
other mechanical device attached to the axle to move freely as
well. Widely regarded as one of the single most important
inventions ever made, the idea of a wheel seems to have cropped
up in many cultures from early times. However, its application
in pre-industrial societies is mainly confined to
agriculturalist and pastoral societies in the Old World. One
reason for this is that wheeled vehicles can only be used on
relatively flat terrain or along constructed bearing surfaces
such as roads and tracks. Wheels were not used
indigenously in the Americas, nor in Africa south of the Sahara.
. Chalco, State
of Mexico (shown larger than actual size, which is about that of
a quarter). Small discs of clay, wood, or gourd are used with a
spindle rod in order to spin fibers by hand. Spindle whorls come
in a great variety of forms and decorations.
Why Not Wheels?
Given that this technology was known
by several cultures of Ancient America, and given (and it is a
FACT) that is was not in use to transport goods and people, the
question begs answering: why wasn't it used?
there are a limited set of plausible reasons why wheels were not
used and wide-spread. For the sake of speculation, they
1) It was a sacred device.
It is common in cultures around the world for certain objects or
devices to be treated as sacred, and not to be used.
However, there is no record of this being the case for
2) Wheels were heretical, or
forbidden for other reasons. Again this might be a case of
a religious connection. Certainly, in Western religious
traditions there have been numerous objects that were forbidden
from use. However, there is no record of this being the
case for pre-Columbian Wheels.
3) Pre-columbian roads really were not suitable to wheeled
transport - feet navigate jungles and mountains far better.
Speaking from personal experience in the rediscovery of portions
of a large road system in Costa Rica (at
Guayabo), the Pre-columbian
roads were far from smooth, and would have quickly destroyed
wooden or stone wheels. In fact, it was through the
invention of iron bands that wooden wheels held up on European
4) They never made the connection from models to large scale
- this is a known phenomenon that exists even today. As
difficult as it may seem to a modern mentality, it is entirely
reasonable for this failure to grasp the significance of toy
wheels to have existed. Thus, small wheeled effigy models
were as far as the thought process progressed. However,
there is no proof, one way or the other for this.
5) They could not solve or
evolve the supportive technologies needed
for functional wheels: bearings, uniform manufacture, etc.
For a wheel system to function, to be used for its intended
purpose as a load-bearing locomotion system, there are several
components that must be in place and function reliably.
The wheel itself is a big part, but it requires an axel, and a
bearing between them. This could simply be grease
lubricating the interface between the wheel hub and the axel,
but without it, the wheel will bind or destroy the axel quickly.
Wheels also need to be uniformly manufactured. We know
these cultures could manufacture objects of extreme complexity in
stone and soft metals, but wheels?
6) Wheels might have been in limited use,
but the technology was lost, and no artifacts remain. It is known that warfare was
widespread throughout Ancient America, in Mesoamerica and in the
Andean region of South America especially. It is probable that
numerous advances in technology were lost, as the artisans that
developed them were overrun and killed or made captive.
This may be one of the reasons we see sophisticated crafts
devolve into more primitive, as occurred in many regions.
If there were limited wheel makers, they may have expired before
being able to spread the knowledge needed. But remember,
this is speculation.
7) They never saw the need.
With a abundant human workforce throughout Ancient America, and
without large beasts of burden, wheeled vehicles would have been
redundant and unnecessary. In practical terms, it is
easier to carry goods, than to pull the good and the wagon, if
the terrain is not well suited to wheeled vehicles.
However, in other cultures
wheeled vehicles were pulled by humans, and while the cobbled
roads were not very suitable to smooth travel, we know there
were roads well suited to wheeled vehicles in Mexico and Peru. In the end, the most likely
explanation is that the wheel, by virtue of being only used on
small effigies (toys) had an unknown religious significance that has
not survived, that, and the lack of need, are the reasons, more than any other,
the wheel's use in utilitarian roles.
But there are other factors
involved also. The principle of rotary motion is obvious to our
modern senses, and was well known throughout the New World. The
Inca culture, for example, are thought to have used wooden
rollers to haul some of the giant stones used to build
Cuzco and other cities. Unfortunately, as previously said, there
was a total lack of draft animals, with only one beast of burden
known: the llama, which was used solely as a pack animal.
Without draft animals you cannot do extensive hauling with
sledges, and without sledges it will never occur to their
builder that the wheel would be a next logical step. When the
Inca's architects had to transport heavy objects, they relied on
manpower, often to the considerable sorrow of the men doing the
powering (some 3,000 of 20,000 workers died dragging one
particularly massive stone, according to chronicles).
Consequently, heavy hauling in the New World was restricted to
manpower. The Sumerians, on the other hand, had considerable
experience with the use of sledges, but even so it took them
2,000 years of design evolution before the idea of the wheel
finally dawned. Not that it just popped out of thin air. The
general sequence of friction-reducing inventions is thought to
have been: sledges with runners, sledges over loose rollers,
sledges with rollers held in place by guides, sledges with
rollers held in place by guides and thickened on the ends to
make them roll straighter, sledges with the wheel and axle (a
cart), and from there it's a straight path to a Tiajuana Taxi!
Scientist, Author, Publisher
b from Panuco
Veracrus length 7in. (Location 1 on map above),
Tenenepango (D. Charnay's illustration), d from Tres
Zapotes (6), e attributed from from Valley of Oaxaca
from WHEELED TOYS IN MEXICO 1946 by
Goldon F. Ekholm (click
here for the document)
medicine wheel A kind of site in the
northwest North American Plains which was comprised of stone
alignments set in radiating spokes, often with central and
peripheral cairns. Medicine wheels served a number of purposes
and some are as old as 5500 BP. In southern Montana is a
medicine wheel which is a prehistoric relic constructed of rough
stones laid side by side, forming a circle 70 feet (20 m) in
diameter with 28 spokes leading from the center hub, which is
about 12 feet (3.5 m) in diameter.
potter's wheel A wheel rotating
horizontally which assists a potter in shaping clay into
vessels. The development of the slow, or hand-turned, wheel as
an adjunct to pottery manufacture led to the kick wheel, rotated
by foot, which became the potter's principal tool. The potter
throws the clay onto a rapidly rotating disk and shapes his pot
by manipulating it with both hands. By the Uruk phase in
Mesopotamia, c 3400 BC, the fast wheel was already in use. It
spread slowly, reaching Europe with the Minoans c 2400 BC, and
Britain with the Belgae in the 1st century BC. Its presence can
be taken to imply an organized pottery industry, often also
using an advanced type of kiln.
wheel One of man's simplest but
most important inventions. A Sumerian (Erech) pictograph, dated
about 3500 BC, shows a sledge equipped with wheels. It is also
shown in Uruk pictographs, c 3400 BC, and on the Royal Standard
of Ur. Early wheels were solid and unwieldy, made of a single
piece of wood or three carved planks clamped together by
transverse struts. Spoked wheels appeared about 2000 BC, when
they were in use on chariots in Asia Minor. The wheel was not
used in pre-Columbian America, except in Mexico, where small
pull-along toys in the form of animals were made in terra-cotta.
The use of a wheel (turntable) for pottery had also developed in
Mesopotamia by 3500 BC.
Stendahl, Earl L. (English 1950)
Stocker, Terrence L., Et Al. (English 1986)
Wheeled figurines from Tula, Hidalgo, Mexico
Winning, Hasso Von (English 1950)
Animal figurines on wheels from ancient Mexico
Winning, Hasso Von (English 1951)
Another wheeled animal figurine from Mexico
Winning, Hasso Von (English 1960)
Further examples of figurines on wheels from Mexico
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
An Ancient America Archaeology Site
Published by McGuinnessPublishing Created
by Tim McGuinness, Ph.D., Member of the Society for American
information presented is believed to be correct and accurate.
please let us know of any errors.
This is a scholarly work for non-profit educational purposes.
Presented FREE to students, teachers & educators, and the public in
the interest of developing awareness of the subject and in helping
to preserve our common heritage. Some content is public
domain, some content used under "Fair Use" provision of section 107
U.S. Copyright Law. Some content from third-parties. All
third-party copyrights acknowledged. Sources credited where
possible or known. If we have not correctly credited a source
- please let us know.
Our Websites are dedicated
Kyra, Susie, Mar, and the whole McFamily! Past, Present, and Future!
Past, Present, and Future - Here, There, and Everywhere! And to
friends in Spain, Costa Rica, Peru, and a Land Down Under - You know who you are!
McGuinnessPublishing & McGuinnessOnline web addresses no longer function. Older domain names may no
longer be for McGuinness websites due to domain snatching! However,
domain names remain trademarks of Tim McGuinness regardless of current
Please send comments to: wesayso