Transport has always been an important human activity. Early man, until about 5,000–10,000 years ago, was a nomadic hunter-gatherer; moving on with the change in the seasons, the exhaustion of local supplies, or the movement of the herds he hunted. In the beginning, the family carried their own possessions, but at some point animals were captured and domesticated, and some were found useful as pack animals. The exact time and place at which this first occurred is not known. Certainly, by 7000 B.C. and 8500 B.C. the canoe and the paddle respectively are found in Europe. It is likely that water transport had been in existence much earlier for fishhooks and harpoons of Late Palaeolithic dates are frequently found. In the Neolithic, with the invention of farming, a more settled way of life was necessary and eventually, from about 5000 B.C. onwards, villages, towns, and cities developed. This more sedentary life might be expected to reduce the need for transport but the converse was true for raw materials and goods now had to be brought long distances, from where they occurred naturally or were made, to the towns and villages where they were consumed. Consequently, by the fourth millennium B.C., transport systems had developed and animals were in use to carry goods on their backs or to pull carts.
Piggott (1983, 14) notes that wheeled vehicles, unlike water transport, first appear around the fourth millennium B.C. within the area from the Rhine to the Tigris, and they did not appear in India until the third millennium and in Egypt and China until the second millennium B.C. Before the first historical contacts they were unknown in South East Asia, Africa south of the Sahara, Australasia, Polynesia, and the Americas. The critical factor was the availability of animal power provided, above all, by domestic cattle or by the horse. In the absence of such animals wheeled transport did not develop, even if wheels, in the form of wheeled toys, were familiar, as they were in the Americas.