Beasts of Burden and Wheels in Mesoamerica

With all their advanced technologies – for their time – why did the Maya not use the wheel? They certainly knew about the wheel as some of their children’s toys were wheeled carts. So, why didn’t they use the things themselves?

Some historians have hypothesized that the terrain was too hilly or rocky for wheeled vehicles to be viable. That might be true for the highland Maya but those in the lowlands had no such problems.

Why did the Maya refrain from utilizing wheels and pack-animals? They did not have horses, goats, sheep, or cattle until the Spanish came, but why didn’t they use a method of conveyance other than their own backs? Possibly because they had never successfully domesticated the jaguar, or harnessed dogs. Nothing else was large enough to pull a wagon anyway, except men. At least the Inca had alpaca and llamas.

The Maya had no wagons.

No one has yet come up with an explanation of why they did this. I haven’t a clue either but I assume it must be something in their cosmology or worldview that, for the lack of a better word, “prohibited” such. Is there anything in their religion or such that gives a clue about this issue? The Hindus think cows are sacred and it leads to them shying away from beef. To the Jews, the pig is unclean, so they shy away from pork. Far from a dietary restriction, why did they choose to convey everything on their backs rather than on a wagon, with some sort of draft animal?

Surely there is some clue in their stories.

This also means, of course, that their temples, pyramids, and entire cities were built by transporting the stones by hand just the the Egyptian pyramids. And though they were not on the same scale as the eastern ones, there were a lot more of them. Did they employ slave labor for these or volunteers from the community? Again, we may never know.

It is also strange that this aversion to wheels extended as far north as the Plains Tribes of North America.

I would love to understand why they never looked beyond human brawn for transport.

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3 Responses to “Beasts of Burden and Wheels in Mesoamerica”

  1. Gilgemesh Says:

    Their calendars were wheels. Thus wheels were for the purpose of carrying time.

  2. Theconfessor Says:

    I’ve read a SF novel that touched on the idea. The premise of the novel is that there is a virtual reality network of realistic, lifelike simulations; for instance a rendering of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, or a pre-historic ice age….one such simulation was a 21st century rendering of what a Meso-American domination culture looked like, one that had never been conquered by European invaders. The premise of THAT simulation was a slight ‘correction’ in ancient Meso-Ameeican history; there used to be beasts of burden native to America, for instance horses, but they were driven to extinction before man could put it together. In this simulation, that extinction was averted, and therefore Meso-Americans advanced more rapidly than their European counterparts.

    The part about a lack of beasts of burden is true in Meso-America
    I can’t really think of any real viable options available to the Meso-Americans. No horses, no bison, no bulls…dogs aren’t beasts of burden, they can pull sleds on snow, they can herd sheep, retrieve fowl, and hunt, but they can’t plow fields, or pull a carriage. Jaguars…just, good luck with that. You ever try and train a cat, the small, cute, clawed, fanged, vicious, purring predictor that fits in your lap? Not easy. Getting a great cat to pull a carriage? Not happening.

    As for the great plains tribes? They had a lifestyle that differed from their southern brethren. Meso-America was geographically very tight, consisting of valleys and fell prey to the greatest plague man has ever known; the city. That’s the only reason you need to plow large fields and practice agriculture on an industrial scale; to create the surplus necessary to finance a city. The great plains tribes were very much tribes. Hunter-gatherers, foragers, but mostly sedentary. They had all of North America to spread out across, so there was no force exerting on different tribes to congregate into cities for greater protection or for material wealth. They had comfort, and a simpler, spiritual health

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