Before we were here: BCE transportation

We’ve talked a lot about transportation throughout the world today, but where did it all start?

When looking at transportation through the centuries, one thing we know for sure is that transportation had to start somewhere; so what were the earliest transportation innovations in recorded history?

Transportation thousands of years ago doesn’t look anything like it does today, but some things remain the same. By definition, transportation is the way people and goods move from place to place; transportation serves the same purposes today that it did thousands of years ago.

Smooth sailing

To start, we’re throwing it way back in time to look at transportation before the Common Era, which is commonly referred to as BCE.

In the earliest days, over 100,000 years ago, people dragged things from place-to-place. Around 53,000 BCE, some of the earliest people built rafts made of sticks to move hundreds of miles from Southeast Asia to Australia. By 6,000 BCE, dugout canoes—or canoes made of hollowed out tree trunks—were used to carry people down the Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia and the third-longest in the world. Dugout canoes originated as early as 8,000 BCE.

 The creation of a dugout canoe  Photo from Wikimedia Commons user Bkwillwm
 The creation of a dugout canoe
Photo from Wikimedia Commons user Bkwillwm

By 4,000 BCE the Phoenicians—an early Middle Eastern civilization—made long, wooden row boats to sail the Mediterranean Sea. And soon after, between 3,500 and 3,300 BCE, the Egyptians made boats out of tied reed bundles. The Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations—two of the earliest civilizations—used boats for transportation on the Nile, Euphrates, and Tigris Rivers.

The wheel

So what about one of the most important transportation inventions in history: the wheel?

Although no one is sure exactly when or where the wheel came about, most sources agree it was around 3,500 BCE. At the same time, the wheeled cart emerged—most likely pulled by a camel, horse, or donkey. Modern camels and donkeys were domesticated in the millennia preceding the wheeled cart, helping to drive the new invention.

By 1,300 BCE, wheels of stone or clay were used for chariots in Egypt. Chariots used between 2,000 and 1,500 BCE were light, fast, two-wheeled carts pulled by horses. These chariots were used for battle and helped the Egyptians win wars. Horses were used for transportation as early as 2,000 BCE, although they appeared in cave paintings tens of thousands of years before that.

Egyptian chariot Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Egyptian chariot
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Before we were here

Transportation looked a lot different thousands of years ago, before we were here.

Science shows that the modern form of humans evolved some 200,000 years ago, and you can bet they didn’t figure it out right away! The first humans didn’t have transportation: they had to invent it first! Although modern transportation has taken thousands of years to evolve into what we have today, these early forms of transportation paved the way!


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By Hannah Postlethwait, Go! Staff Writer