The purpose of this note is to draw attention to two recent finds of wooden wheels, one of which extends the area of Pontic vehicle burials into Balkan Europe and the other takes examples of Neolithic wheels in Europe back to a still earlier period. While the former find suggests the importance of the Pit Grave culture in transmitting innovations from the Caucasus around the northern shore of the Black Sea c. 3000 BC, the latter suggests the possibility of an earlier derivation for European wheeled vehicles, possibly via Anatolia.’ (1) Plachidol, nr. Tolbukhin, N E Bulgaria (Panayotov and Dergachov 1984, 107-9) The site is a cemetery of six tumuli belonging to the intrusive ‘ochre grave’ group, and was excavated in 1979. Tumulus I was 7.30 m high and 50-55 m in diameter. Seven metres south of the centre of the mound, at a depth of 4.90 m, was a rectangular pit (Fig. 1) orientated E-W; apparently not the original central burial of the tumulus but dug into a subsequent extension. The pit (Grave 1) contained the crouched inhumation burial of an adult female (c. 25 years) facing north. The skeleton lay on a mass of plant material covering the bottom of the pit, and had red ochre sprinkled on its head and feet. There were no grave goods.

The pit was surrounded by a ledge, 50-90 cm wide and 10-15 cm deep, on which wooden beams were placed lengthwise over the pit to roof it. The eastern end of this ledge was partly destroyed, but in the two corners of the western end of this ledge lay a pair of solid wooden disc-wheels. They appear to be made of single pieces of wood, and have a diameter of 75 cm. Each wheel has an integral nave projecting on both sides with a circular hole for the axle: no other details are given. The circular hole indicates that the wheels rotated about a fixed axle and were held in place by a linchpin: the normal type for this period (Fig. 2, bottom). Tumulus I was the largest of the group, and had originally been crowned by a stone anthropomorphic sculpture. Although the excavation report mentions no other burial in this tumulus, the anthropological report (Jordanov and Michailova 1984) lists four more, (two adult males and an adult female). Tumulus I1 contained nine burials (four of children), all with red ochre, but rare grave goods; two adults each had a copper ring and flint flake. It had also originally been marked by an anthropomorphic sculpture. Tumuli 111, IV and V each contained only a single burial of an adult male with artificially deformed skull, with ochre but no grave-goods. Tumulus VI was not excavated.



PLACHIDOL Tumulus I Grave 1

m Wooden wheels (actually found)

c Planks covering pit

b Wooden wheels (conjectured)

d Remains of organic (felt?) covering under skeleton
~~ ~~

Figure 1 The Plachidol wheel-burial, as excavated. (Drawn by Keith Bennett after plan and section by Panayotov and Dergachov.) The Plachidol ochre-grave Tumulus cemetery is one of ten known from Bulgaria, preponderantly in the north-east. Approximately twice this number are known from Roumania (mostly in Moldavia and the Dobrudja); and many hundreds are known from eastern Hungary (Ecsedy 1979). While excavations of some dozen tumuli in Hungary have repeatedly revealed square, plank-roofed chambers with ochre burials and few grave goods, none has so far revealed traces of a wheeled vehicle. All these tumuli are outliers-in areas which are themselves steppe enclaves-of the great mass of Pit Grave tumuli on the Pontic steppes (Hausler 1971). They are most reasonably interpreted as culturally autonomous groups penetrating from the Pontic steppes into open areas within the temtories of their western neighbours. Intruders and



Rotating axle



Fixed axle

Figure 2 Alternative principles of construction for wheeled vehicles: (top) wheels fixed to a rotating axle; (bottom) removable wheels held on a fixed axle by linchpins. The cart shown at the top can be lifted bodily off its axle; the one at the bottom can be jacked up for the removal of individual wheels. (Drawn by Keith Bennett.) indigenes maintained their own traditions of burial side by side. The burials in the Plachidol tumuli closely resemble those known from the Pontic steppes; the arrangement in Tumulus I Grave 1 is precisely paralleled by burials such as that in the famous Tri Brata and neighbouring Arkhara tumuli near Elista on the Kalmyk Steppe (Piggott 1983, figs 23-5). This was the most elaborate form of interment in the Pit Grave culture, and no doubt indicates elite status. The fact that the Plachidol I wheel-burial was that of a woman is thus particularly interesting.

Some forty radiocarbon dates are available from Pit Grave tumuli in the southern Ukraine, covering the second half of the third millennium bc. Dates for tumuli in Roumania and Hungary all fall in the later part of this period. These dates are parallel to those of the Baden and Ezero cultures, in Hungary and Bulgaria respectively, confirming the contemporary existence of these groups side by side. An approximate date of c. 2400 bc, corresponding to a calendar date of 3000 BC by tree ring calibration, would thus be appropriate for the Plachidol cemetery.



(2) Zurich, Switzerland; ‘Acad.’ site, near to ‘Pressehaus’ (Ruoff 1978; Woytowitsch 1985) Investigations by U. Ruoff on urban rescue sites at the edge of Lake Zurich have revealed a series of waterlogged occupations belonging to the later third millennium BC. At the ‘Pressehaus’ site (Ruoff 1978; Piggott 1983,51) excavated in 1976 a pair of wheels and their connecting axle were discovered stuck in the mud with a third nearby, near to the palisaded perimeter of a Corded Ware settlement. These wheels were of a more complex construction, and on a different principle of attachment to the axle, from the other solid, tripartite or single-piece disc wheels known from third-millennium contexts in Europe (van der Waals 1964). The two (or perhaps three, since the upper parts were truncated) planks of which the wheel was composed were held together by three battens with a trapezoid section let into the outer face of the wheel. Moreover the wheels, which lacked naves, had a square hole which acted as a mortice for the axle to which they were thus firmly fixed. The whole element of wheels plus axle thus turned as a unit-the axle had a circular section (apart from its morticed ends) and the body of the vehicle sat directly on top of it (Fig. 2, top). After this find, fragments of a similar wheel (along with a wooden yoke) were then noticed among old finds from Vinelz on the Bielersee, also probably of Corded Ware date. Radiocarbon estimates on Corded Ware contexts in Switzerland fall into the range 2200-2000 bc, giving a calendar age of 2800-2600 BC by tree ring calibration. (They are thus broadly contemporary with, or slightly later than, the Plachidol find.) Wheels with this square mortice-hole are characteristic of the circumAlpine area in the Bronze Age; a solid, 246

single-piece example of Late Bronze Age date came from Castione dei Marchesi in northern Italy, and it is also a feature of contemporary crossbar wheels from this area (Woytowitsch 1985, figs 7, 36). The form, however, goes back earlier than the Corded Ware period. Another small but identifiable fragment has been recognised from a Chalcolithic context at Egolzwyl 2 (Lucerne), and from the typesite of Auvernier (Ruy-Chatru) on Lake Neuchstel. Now another find from Zurich makes this the oldest surviving example of a wooden wheel from Europe, contemporary with the classic Baden culture cart-models of Budakalhsz and Alsonemedi in western Hungary. Excavations by U. Ruoff on an early Horgen site ‘Akad.’, near to the ‘Pressehaus’ site brought to light a singlepiece solid disc wheel, which nevertheless still had the characteristics of being naveless and having a square hole for an axle rotating with the wheel. The wheel itself is 55 cm in maximum diameter-it has suffered some lateral compression-and just over 5 cm thick at the centre. Like the others from this area it is of Acer (probably field maple) wood. Radiocarbon estimates for the Horgen culture range from 2600-2400 bc, while those for the earlier part of the closely related SOM culture in northern France suggest a beginning around 2700 bc (Howell 1983, 52). Calibration would produce a calendar date around 3500 BC for the onset of Horgen. This date thus takes finds of wooden wheels back to the widespread horizon of indications of the use of paired draught indicated in central Europe by paired-ox burials, figures of yoked oxen and waggonmodels, and in northern Europe by ploughmarks.2 Although no wooden wheels are yet known from northern Europe before the Corded Ware period, this find suggests that


earlier examples may be found, taking the innovation back into TRB (Middle Neolithic) times. This strengthens the suggestion that the ‘traction complex’ of plough and wheeled vehicle appeared as a unity in fourth-millennium Europe (Sherratt 1981, 1983, 1986). Although the occurrence of wheel-finds at this date was thus predictable, these examples (with their contrasting typology) raise afresh the question of the route of their transmission to Europe. Links via the Pontic steppes to the Caucasus are evident not only from the distribution of the burials of the Pit Grave culture but also from the introduction of Caucasian types of bronze axes and chisels using arsenical copper and the twopiece mould (Chernikh 1978). But these appear in Central Europe and the Balkans only after 3000 BC; and while wheeled vehicles were clearly an integral part of the Pit Grave complex, they were apparently already in use in both Baden and Horgen contexts at the time of its arrival. Since all the analogies for Baden pottery-mostly skeuomorphic echoes of metal vesselspoint to Anatolia (Kalicz 1963), this would provide a plausible source for wheeled vehicles of the mid fourth millennium. One point of typology remains: were the square-hole, naveless wheels, fixed to a rotating axle, characteristic of the ‘first wave’ of possibly Anatolian-derived wheeled vehicles, continuing to be used

through into the Bronze Age in the relative backwater of Switzerland; or were they a specific adaptation to circum-Alpine conditions? Examples of fixed wheels in the Near East are sporadic, and belong to the second millennium or later: all the thirdmillennium finds have round-hole, freely rotating wheels with or without naves (Littauer and Crouwell979,13-14). But we have no idea of the nature of fourth-millennium Near Eastern wheels, since the only evidence is from Uruk pictographs rather than finds or detailed representations. It is thus possible that the earliest wheels were generally fixed to the axle. However, functional differences between two types should not be forgotten. With a fixed axle and freely rotating wheels, a damaged wheel can easily be removed. When the vehicle is stuck in mud, however, this procedure is difficult. With a rotating axle, the body of the cart can simply be lifted off the bogged-down wheels and axle. Since this is arguably what actually happened in the case of the Zurich Pressehaus example, it may be the explanation for its preferred use in circum-Alpine lakeside settlements. The alternative design would have been preferable on the steppes, and on the dry plains of lowland E ~ r o p e . ~

Ashmolean Museum Oxford


1. Both finds form interesting footnotes to the comprehensive survey of European wheeled vehicles published by Professor Stuart Piggott (1983). Since 1985 was Professor Piggott’s 75th year, this note is affectionately dedicated in celebration of it. 2. This horizon includes, of course, the waggon-models of Budakalhsz, Szigetszentmhrton (both in Hungary)

and RadoSina (Slovakia), as well as the drawing on a pot from Bronocice (Little Poland). Professor Piggott’s dating of this horizon (1983, 44-5) needs to be corrected; or rather, returned to the date which he originally suggested fifteen years before (1968, 304). Since Lengyel and Tiszapolghr run parallel in western and eastern Hungary respectively, there is no need to compress Bodrogkeresztdr (itself parallel to late




Lengyel) into the third millennium bc. He was thus originally correct in dating the onset of Baden to c. 2700 bc. Bronocice IV and V correspond to late Baden; Bronocice I11 with its cart-drawing parallels classic Baden (like Budakalisz), and has four associated radiocarbon dates of 2740-2570 (Kruk and Milisauskas 1981). The RadoSina model, in a Boleraz (protoBaden) context, is the earliest example and would just precede them at c. 28/2700 bc. 3. With characteristic perception, Mrs M.A. Littauer (in litt Jan 1986) provides a further dimension to this argument. If wheeled vehicles developed from sledges with captive rollers (as the pictographs hint), then a fixed wheel/revolving axle would be a logical design for the earliest carts. It would require less sophisticated carpentry and would be less vulnerable to wear than a wheel whose nave was carefully cut to rotate on a fixed axle. The fixed axle, allowing the wheels to revolve differentially, was particularly advantageous for fourwheeled vehi’cles, especially where used in battle (as in Mesopotamia). The bias towards prestige vehicles (usually four-wheelers with fixed axles) in graves and artistic representations may mask the widespread contemporary use of a less sophisticated design, the two-wheeler with rotating axle. Such a primitive but robust design has survived down to recent times in areas less sophisticated technologically or with a more abrasive environment (Portugal, Anatolia, Mongolia). I am very grateful to Mrs Littauer for these and many other helpful observations. See now also Hayen 1983.

1983: Settlement and Economy in Neolithic Northern France. Oxford, BAR Int Ser 157.

and MICHAILOVA, K . 1984: Anthropologische Daten aus zwei Nekropolen der Ockergrabkultur in Nordostbulgarien. Studia Praehistorica (Sofia) 7, 117-130.

KALICZ, N . 1963: Die Piceler (Badener) Kultur und Anatolien. Budapest, Akadtmiai Kiado.

and MILISAUSKAS, s. 1981: Chronology of Funnel Beaker, Baden-like and Lublin-Volynian settlements at Bronocice, Poland. Germania 59, 1-19.
KRUK, I . M . A . and CROUWEL, I . 1979: Wheeled Vehicles and Ridden Animals in the Ancient Near East. Leiden, Brill. LITTAUER, PANAYOTOV, I . and DERGACHOV, v . 1984: Die Ockergrabkultur in Bulgarien (Darstellung des Problems). Studia Praehistorica (Sofia) 7, 99-116. PIGGOTT, s. 1968: The earliest wheeled vehicles and the Caucasian evidence. Proc. Prehist. SOC.34, 266-318.


1983: The Earliest Wheeled Transport: from the Atlantic coast to the Caspian Sea. London, Thames and Hudson.

RUOFF, u . 1978: Die Schnurkeramischen Rader von Zurich “Pressehaus”. Archaeologisches Korrespondenzblatt 8 , 275-83.

1978: Gornoe Delo i Metallurgiya v Drevneishei Bolgarii. Sofia, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

1981: Plough and pastoralism: aspects of the secondary products revolution, in I. Hodder, G . Isaac and N. Hammond (eds.) Pattern of the Past: Studies in honour of David Clark. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
SHERRATT, A.G. SHERRATT, A . G . 1983: The secondary exploitation of animals in the Old World. World Archaeology 15, 90-104.

ECSEDY, I . 1979: The People of the Pit-grave Kurgans in eastern Hungary. Budapest, Akademiai Kiado. HAULER, A . 1976: Die Graber der alteren Ockergrabkultur zwischen Dnepr und Karpathen. Berlin, Akademie-Verlag.



1983: Handwerklich-technische Losungen im vor- und fruhgeschichtlichen Wagenbau. In H. Jankuhn, W. Janseen, R. Schmidt-Wiegand, H. Tiefenbach (eds.), Das Hendwerk in vor- und friihgeschichtlicher Zeit (Teil2) (Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Gottingen) (Gottingen), 415-70.

A . G . 1986: Wool, wheels and ploughmarks: local developments or outside introductions in Neolithic Europe? Bulletin of the Institute of Archaeology (London), in press.

VAN DER WAALS, D. 1964: Prehistoric Disc Wheels in the Netherlands. Amsterdam, IPP.


1985: Die ersten Wagen der Schweiz: die altesten Europas. Helvetia Archaeologica 61, 2-45.



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