|Great Zimbabwe, a city without streets|
|A Maya city without streets. Map by Ed Barnhart|
|Vehicle ruts at Pompeii|
While streets serve as place for walking, and as connectors within the city, the main reason for the existence of streets in cities is to accommodate wheeled transport, whether ox-carts or automobiles. Chariot movement and other wheeled cart traffic in Pompeii was so extensive that the stone streets have deep wheel ruts. If wheeled transport was not important in a region, then the cities in that area don't have streets. This fits for ancient Mesoamerica and the Andes, and for much of sub-Saharan Africa. Inka cities are a partial exception. The Inka built an extensive road system for administration of their empire, and many of their cities had streets. But this is one of the few cases where urban streets developed prior to the introduction of wheeled transport.
But why didn't the peoples of ancient Mesoamerica have wheeled transport? They had a vibrant commercial economy, with lots of long-distance trade, periodic marketplaces, and professional merchants. They had two types of money. But they didn't use wheeled carts. The surprising thing is that the Mesoamericans DID invent the wheel. They made wheeled toys - mostly small clay animals with holes in the legs for an axle and wheels. These were most abundant in sites of the Toltec period (AD 900-1100), including Tula in central Mexico. I recovered some of these wheels and one of the legs in my fieldwork in the Yautepec Valley (see the photo).
If they knew the concept of the wheel, and they had lots of things worth transporting, why didn't the ancient Mesoamericans build carts? Two answers are usually given to this question. First, they lacked the appropriate draft animals. The major domesticated animals in Mesoamerica were the dog and the turkey. Turkeys don't make very good draft animals. And as anyone who ever tied up his or her dog to a wagon can attest, dogs aren't very good at pulling vehicles either. The second answer is that Mesoamerica consists mostly of rough, mountainous terrain. It would be costly and difficult to build the kinds of roads needed to move wheeled carts from one region to another. People carried burdens on their backs (using a tump-line that went across the forehead); indeed professional carriers were
|Wheels and animal leg from Yautepec|
|Aztec merchants carrying loads|
Some sources on Toltec wheeled toys:
Diehl, Richard A. and Margaret Mandeville
1987 Tula and Wheeled Animal Effigies in Mesoamerica. Antiquity 61: 239-246.
1951 A Wheeled Toy from Guerrero, Mexico. Ethnos 16.
Stocker, Terry, Barbara Jackson, and Harold Riffell
1986 Wheeled Figurines from Tula, Hidalgo, Mexico. Mexicon 8 (4): 69-72.