Subject:      wheel in ancient America
From:         yuku@mail.trends.ca (Yuri Kuchinsky)
Date:         1997/05/12
Message-ID:   <5l7pfb$lsg$1@trends.ca>
Newsgroups:   sci.archaeology,soc.history.ancient,sci.skeptic,sci.anthropology

I hope we're not reinventing the wheel here, but here's some more info in
regard to the use of the wheel in ancient times.

Recently some discussion took place in these ngs in regard to wheel in
ancient America. We know that _the idea of the wheel_ was known to ancient
Americans, because of some toys (more correctly votive objects) on wheels
they had.

And now, I would like to add something further in this regard. I mentioned
previously that the "potter's wheel" was known in America. Some people
were surprised by this and asked me privately to provide the refs, so here
it comes:

        ---O---

Did the prehispanic Americans know the potter's wheel?

Terence Grieder, ROTARY TOOLS IN ANCIENT PERU, ARCHAEOLOGY, 28:178,
(1975), also SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, 233/4: 54 (1975)

He describes a type of a lathe found at Pashash, Peru. The principle
of the wheel was apparently applied in the manufacture of stone
vessels, also some pottery may have been so manufactured. This
technique was used for a couple of centuries, and then seemed to
disappear.

        ---O---

This certainly indicates that the wheel was better known in America than
is commonly believed.

So why didn't the ancient Americans use the wheel more widely? A number of
explanations have been suggested, some of them utilitarian, and some of
them based on mythological/religious reasons. Among the latter, one may
suggest that because ancient "calendar stones" of the Mayans and the
Aztecs were round, the use of such round objects may have been restricted
by priesthoods. Who knows? I'm not saying I know the answer, just offering
some suggestions...

And now, I would like to offer some more of the "utilitarian" reasons. In
particular, how significant the wheel really was as a "technological
breakthrough"? There're a number of scholars who believe that the
importance of the wheel is somewhat overstated. The use of _travois_, or a
sort of a "sled", by Amerindians was mentioned already. But also some
interesting cases are known when the wheel was known and then "forgotten"
in some areas. One such area is North Africa during the middle ages. The
wheel was certainly known there in early times, but then, apparently, it
disappeared until it was reintroduced in the 19 century. Morocco is one
such place.

Again, what is really the importance is the "potter's wheel"? Here're some
interesting considerations in regard to how important or significant this
invention may have or haven't been.

George M. Foster, THE COYOTEPEC MOLDE AND SOME ASSOCIATED PROBLEMS
OF THE POTTER'S WHEEL, Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 15:53-
63 (1959), and THE POTTER'S WHEEL: AND ANALYSIS OF IDEA AND ARTIFACT IN
INVENTION, Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 15:99-119 (1959)

In these articles Foster compares the use of the true "potter's
wheel" with the use of _kabal_ or _molde_, a non-pivoting but
rotatable support for clay working. These are known in precolumbian
America. He cites the anthropological literature to show great
confusion about the "potter's wheel" as invention and its supposed
consequences. Most of the statements displayed are accurate only if
"throwing" pots was actually done at the speed and skill level of
the device's potential. In fact that rarely happens; most potters,
even today, do not approach the potential of their devices but use
them as little more than fancy _moldes_. He conducted fieldwork and
experiments showing that the speed of revolution of "the full
potter's wheel" is highly variable, the rates normally attained
overlapping with the speed of the rotating _moldes_. Thus the nature
of the "invention" of the potter's wheel, let alone its supposed
advantages, remains unclear.

Anyway, all this information may provide some relevant background for
our discussions...

Best regards,

Yuri.

Yuri Kuchinsky   | "Where there is the Tree of Knowledge, there
     -=-         | is always Paradise: so say the most ancient
 in Toronto      | and the most modern serpents."  F. Nietzsche
 ----- my webpage is for now at: [22]http://www.io.org/~yuku -----
   _________________________________________________________________


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