The Earliest Evidence of Wheeled Vehicles in Europe and the near East

By Bakker, Jan Albert; Kruk, Janusz et al. | Antiquity, December 1999 | Go to article overview

The Earliest Evidence of Wheeled Vehicles in Europe and the near East


Bakker, Jan Albert, Kruk, Janusz, Lanting, Albert E., Milisauskas, Sarunas, Antiquity


Introduction

The appearance of wheeled vehicles in Europe and the Near East during the 4th millennium BC is a major socio-economic development. In the past, eminent archaeologists such as Childe (1951), Piggott (1979; 1983) and, more recently, Sherratt (1981; 1997) have argued for diffusion of wheeled vehicles from the Near East to Europe. In contrast, other archaeologists as e.g. Hausler (1992) and Vosteen (1996) stressed the local development of wheeled vehicles in Europe. The question of diffusion versus independent development is an old issue in archaeology. Judging by the archaeological data in the 1990s, it seems that wheeled vehicles developed more or less simultaneously or diffused very fast from Mesopotamia to Europe. We favour the latter possibility. It is difficult to explain how this technological transmission occurred in the 4th millennium BC, but Europe and the Near East were never isolated from each other during this period. First we will discuss the Near Eastern data from Uruk, Jebel Aruda and Arslantepe, then those from Bronocice and Flintbek in Europe (FIGURE 1).

[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Wagon pictographs from the Late Uruk and Jemdet Nasr periods

Until recently it seemed that the wagon pictographs inscribed on clay tablets from the protoliterate Eanna precinct, level IVa at Uruk-Warka, Iraq (FIGURE 2; Falkenstein 1936: 56, signs 743-745 = Green & Nissen 1987: 220, sign 248) held chronological priority over evidence from elsewhere, though their absolute date was somewhat problematic (`c. 3200-3100 BC', Littauer & Crouwel (1979:13).(1) By 1965 a radiocarbon determination on burnt conifer roof beams of Temple C, in level IVa, was published by the Heidelberg laboratory as `2815 [+ or -] 85 BC' (Lenzen 1965: 20, 17), or 4765 [+ or -] 85 BP (no. 1 in TABLE 1 and FIGURE 3).(2,3) This early date was recently confirmed by three other radiocarbon determinations on the same material (nos. 2-4: Boehmer et al. 1993: 63, 67): average 4670 [+ or -] 20 BP or 3517-3370 cal BC.

[Figures 2-3 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

TABLE 1. References are given in the text. Nos. 1-19 correspond to those in FIGURE 3.

      site              lab. no.                BP

 1    Uruk-Eanna IVa    Hd-?             4765 [+ or -] 85
 2    Uruk-Eanna IVa    Hd-13042-12731   4690 [+ or -] 35
 3    Uruk-Eanna IVa    Hd-13043-12732   4670 [+ or -] 35
 4    Uruk-Eanna IVa    Hd-13041-12713   4660 [+ or -] 35
 5    Jebel Aruda       GrN-7989         4495 [+ or -] 35
 6    Jebel Aruda       GrN-8463         4490 [+ or -] 35
 7    Jebel Aruda       GrN-8464         4410 [+ or -] 80
 8    Bronocice 34-A1   GrN-19612        4725 [+ or -] 50
 9    Bronocice III     DIC-716          4610 [+ or -] 120
10    Bronocice III     DIC-360          4600 [+ or -] 120
11    Bronocice III     DIC-2266         4590 [+ or -] 55
12    Bronocice III     DIC-1738         4570 [+ or -] 70
13    Bronocice III     DIC-1796         4550 [+ or -] 70
14    Bronocice III     DIC-363          4520 [+ or -] 60
15    Bronocice III     DIC-1791         4440 [+ or -] 75
16    Bronocice II      DIC-362          4940 [+ or -] 125
17    Bronocice II      DIC-542          4800 [+ or -] 70
18    Bronocice II      DIC-2265         4700 [+ or -] 60
19    Bronocice II      DIC-718          4690 [+ or -] 75

                         cal BC,     cal BC,    `median
      site               1 sigma     2 sigma    cal BC'

 1    Uruk-Eanna IVa    3641-3381   3699-3365   3565
 2    Uruk-Eanna IVa    3519-3375   3627-3369   3503, 3428
 3    Uruk-Eanna IVa    3515-3371   3621-3365   3435
 4    Uruk-Eanna IVa    3505-3369   3617-3363   3497
 5    Jebel Aruda       3333-3099   3349-3043   3313, 3111
 6    Jebel Aruda       3333-3099   3347-3037   3225, 3160
 7    Jebel Aruda       3307-2917   3341-2897   3097
 8    Bronocice 34-A1   3629-3379   3637-3373   3520
 9    Bronocice III     3620-3100   3640-2935   3366
10    Bronocice III     3520-3100   3640-2935   3363
11    Bronocice III     3490-3121   3517-3099   3361
12    Bronocice III     3495-3101   3517-3031   3355
13    Bronocice III     3367-3101   3513-3021   3349
14    Bronocice III     3351-3101   3491-3023   3335
15    Bronocice III     3327-2925   3343-2919   3092, 3042
16    Bronocice II      3940-3545   3980-3380   3706
17    Bronocice II      3655-3387   3705-3377   3551, 3543
18    Bronocice II      3625-3375   3635-3367   3420
19    Bronocice II      3625-3371   3643-3143   3503, 3428

The known number of wagon pictographs (FIGURE 2) is very small. …

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