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Moriches - Riverhead Road | Northampton, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Joined October 2012

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Artist's Description

The history of road transport started with the development of tracks by humans and their beasts of burden.

The first forms of road transport were horses, oxen or even humans carrying goods over tracks that often followed game trails, such as the Natchez Trace. In the Stone Age humans did not need constructed tracks in open country. The first improved trails would have been at fords, mountain passes and through swamps. The first improvements would have consisted largely of clearing trees and big stones from the path. As commerce increased, the tracks were often flattened or widened to accommodate human and animal traffic. Some of these dirt tracks were developed into fairly extensive networks, allowing communications, trade and governance over wide areas. The Incan Empire in South America and the Iroquois Confederation in North America, neither of which had the wheel, are examples of effective use of such paths.

The first goods transport was on human backs and heads, but the use of pack animals, including donkeys and horses, developed during the Stone Age. The first vehicle is believed to have been the travois, a frame used to drag loads, which probably developed in Eurasia after the first use of bullocks (castrated cattle) for pulling ploughs. In about 5000 BC, sleds developed, which are more difficult to build than travois, but are easier to propel over smooth surfaces. Pack animals, ridden horses and bullocks dragging travois or sleds require wider paths and higher clearances than people on foot and improved tracks were required. As a result, by about 5000 BC roads, including the Ridgeway, developed along ridges in England to avoid crossing rivers and bogging. In central Germany, such ridgeways remained the predominant form of long-distance road till the mid 18th century.

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