Did Pre-Columbian Mesoamericans use wheels?

One of the many constructed mysteries about Mesoamerica societies is whether they knew the wheel or not. Constructed mysteries, because there are already several established about that topic in modern Mesoamericanism; still many people don’t want to hear that. It’s a wonderful topic to point out the ignorance of serious Mesoamericanists and Mayanists and therefore a possibility to show, how wrong they could be on other fields, too. Those fields include mystic topics, like the 2012 doomsday, the Mayan calendar in general and other things.

If we have a look at the wheel topic, no modern Mayanist would doubt, that the Maya had invented the wheel and used it. The fallacy of many interested persons is now, that they deduct the possible uses for wheels in ancient times from our use of it today.

Mayas made extensive use of wheels for children’s toys. They basically mounted any kind of animals on wheels. We can find jaguars, dogs, cats, monkeys, etc. You can find great examples for such toys along with the stories of their findings at precolumbianwheels.com. In modern days, the hive-brained Internet constructed something similar looking and called it duckroll.

The Internet is weird

While I want to excuse for that childish joke, I’ll promise to give further valuable insights on the wheel. The already mentioned website also presents some theories around that, ranging from “Wheels might have been in limited use, but the technology was lost, and no artifacts remain.” to “They never made the connection from models to large scale”. It’s questionable, to say the least, that the Maya and other cultures put wheels to toys, but wouldn’t be able to put them to a carriage. So there has to be another reason for this, especially since it weren’t just humans, that suffered to not have wheels:

A god depicted as carrying something on his back

So even gods had to carry their burden instead of letting it be dragged by an ox or a horse. And there we have a possible reason. It’s one thing to put wheels on a cat and drag it around; but it’s definitely another thing, if you want to build a carriage or a plow but you have no suiting animals that could drag it. Jaguars were probably forbidden as a production animal. Combining these thoughts with the often very poorly passable terrain of jungle or mountains and the lack of good roads through it, it could simply have been easier to carry only the goods instead of carrying carriage and goods, when you find yourself in front of an impassable obstacle.

A modern Mayan Girl carrying goods

For this purpose it seems reasonable to accept, that – instead of building carriages – the people constructed easy but functional carrier mechanisms. If you have a look at the picture above, please note the strap on the girl’s forehead while carrying the big jar. This could be the remnant of such an ancient mechanism. This seems very probable, if you have a look at the god again, which has a similar strap around his head (even though he looks a lot more tensed than the girl).

After all I want to conclude: Yes, Maya and other Mesoamerican cultures knew the wheel very well, even used it for toys. But no, they didn’t use it for carrying goods or plowing, because they lacked the suitable production animals and the proper terrain for this. Instead they used easy, efficient carrier mechanisms. Myth solved and yet Mayanists supposed that already. No ignorance to be found here, at least not at this side of the table.

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