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There is still some scholarly debate as to whether the wheel was first invented in Mesopotamia or farther north in Eurasia. The earliest extant or represented versions from both cultures date to ca. 3500 BCE. Because a wheel requires precise shaping in order to function, it needs to be manufactured with metal tools, and thus could not be developed before the advent of metallurgy.
Although we may think of the wheel primarily in terms of transportation, the first wheels were potter's wheels, used to improve the speed and quality of manufacture of pottery. Soon, the wheel became adapted for a wide range of uses including agriculture, transportation, and water mills. As wheeled transport requires smooth surfaces, it tended to be used in transport in relatively flat areas that were parts of large, complex empires that were wealthy enough to invest in substantial road networks. It also had military uses. Homer, for example, portrays the use of wheeled chariots in warfare.
Modern industrial society relies extensively on the wheel for transportation, agriculture, and manufacturing.
The impact of the wheel on future civilizations cannot be overemphasized. It is one of the most important discoveries in the history of the world. Let us look at two reasons why this is so.
First, the wheel makes for the possibility of greater economic wealth. Without wheels, it is very difficult to transport large loads of anything over long distances. It is possible to do so over water, but it is very hard to move things anywhere without navigable waterways. The invention of the wheel allows farmers to have carts in which they can easily bring their produce a few miles to market. This capability, of course, expanded dramatically with the invention of things like trains and automobiles, which also rely on the wheel.
The wheel also transformed warfare. The chariot was an important cavalry weapon in many societies. It helped, for example, the Hyksos to defeat the Egyptians. In much later times, wheels would also lead to the possibility of tanks and of the mechanized, highly mobile warfare that was practiced in World War II.
Thus, the invention of the wheel transformed both war and economics.
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