This little-recognised species, now known to be important in passing on experience, ideas and inventions to succeeding generations, did not exist during the Palaeolithic, when early humans lived and hunted in small groups and repeated climate changes forced them to move and adapt. Lives were short and blue-sky thinking was not the first priority for most people. But here, a young, brighter-than-average homo heidelbergensis describes how he once gave it a go:
“Life in the Stone Age is brutish and short.
Our hunting techniques haven’t changed:
Our elders die young, so we youngsters aren’t taught
New techniques, and ideas aren’t exchanged.
“This week, we men slaughtered a mammoth or two.
Our adrenaline makes us feel brave,
But we’re knackered to bits by the time that we’re through
And we’ve lugged back its parts to our cave.
“So I started to think, with this big brain of mine:
If I rig bits of wood, hinged on pegs
To a platform and work them, back-and-forth, with some twine,
I could drive it around – they’d be ‘legs’ . . .
“Then mammoth retrieval would just be a doddle.
My platform on legs would work hard,
And, thanks to the grey matter inside my noddle,
I’d have time – I could be the tribe’s bard!
“But Granny had noticed me thinking. She said:
‘I have a solution, I feel.
Your Granddad invented . . . . . . . . . .’ And then she dropped dead.”
Thus, the world was deprived of the wheel!
Eventually, homo granddadus evolved.
Living longer and much more contented,
He could pass on his wisdom, so problems got solved . . .
And that’s how the wheel got invented!