It is not the wheel itself, but the problem of rotation that’s dogged our minds for thousands of years – John Lienhard
He must have first observed it in the wild, and many times during the Paleolithic (2.6 m – 10,000 ya) the much less strenuous movement of the rolling tree log; something that must have been puzzling and tantalizing while he himself was left to haul for example the prey that was captured hundreds of meters outside his dwelling.
Astonishingly, however, it was not until about 3500 BC that he was able to leverage his knowledge of the mechanics to invent the wheel for good. If that does not sound odd then consider the fact that the first stone tools were invented around 2.6 mya, the hand axes and choppers around 700,000 ya and as we already know (from the most important discovery of man part I), the evidence of the first controlled fire dates back around 1 mya. The paintings, sculptors, carvings and other prehistoric all flourished during the Paleolithic.
And yet, it was not until 3500 BC, 6500 years after the agricultural revolution that wheels were developed by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia. This is only 900 years before the Pyramids of Egypt were built. As Natalie Wolchover of Scientific American writes, “The tricky thing about the wheel is not conceiving of a cylinder rolling on its edge. It’s figuring out how to connect a stable, stationary platform to that cylinder.”.
Since being able to use wheels for transportation is one of the greatest achievements man has made, it is interesting to think that we lacked the successful mechanics for a staggeringly long time. Had it co-evolved, for example, with stone tools and art, several hundred thousand years ago it is certain that the world would be vastly different from what it is now, and most likely thousands of years ahead of where we stand today.
Natalie Wolchover (2012). Why it took so long to invent the wheel. Scientific American.
The Evolution of the Wheel.