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The wheel from the Ljubljana Marshes in a museum

Photo: Matevž Paternoster

The oldest wheel with an axle in the world is 5200 years old and was discovered in the Ljubljana Marshes, the pile dwellings of which are a part of UNESCO’s world heritage.

In 2002 Slovenian archaeologists discovered an ash wheel in the Barje wetland near the town of Vrhnika. Shortly afterwards, the oak axle belonging to it was found nearby. Research has shown that the wheel is 5,200 years old. It had survived so long because the boggy soil in which it lay was constantly waterlogged. 

The Barje wetland was once the site of pile-dwelling settlements dating back to the period from 4700 BC to 1800 BC and a unique feature of the areas south and north of the Alps. The Barje wheel found in Slovenia is very special: older than the Parthenon in Athens, older than the Maya civilisation in Mexico, older than the pyramids in Egypt. It is the oldest dated wheel in the world and replicas of it are on display in numerous museums around the world. Research has revealed that the wheel was made by a highly skilled prehistoric wheelwright with excellent knowledge of wood and its properties and experience in building wheels and carts. The quality of the workmanship has convinced experts that the wheel was not the only arte-fact of its kind made by this prehistoric master craftsman. The greatest value of the find, aside from its age, is in its technical perfection. The Barje wheel has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The wheel  was once part of a single-axle two-wheeled cart of the kind usually drawn by two animals, probably oxen. The find of the wheel proves, among other things, that roads existed in Slovenia even before the arrival of the Romans. Roads were already being built in the fourth century BC. The Barje wheel also proves that the inhabitants of the Barje pile-dwellings were skilled craftsmen. The wheel was constructed with great precision from two flat pieces of ash joined together by four wedge-shaped pins. It was also bound with cord, although this has not survived. The tree from which the wheel was made was around 80 years old and had a trunk diameter of at least 40 centimetres. The cart was probably used for short distances and was used both to carry crops from the fields and to transport the large quantities of wood needed to build houses. 

Text by Tanja Glogovčan