native american

10 Truly Impressive Native American Innovations

Many people mistakenly believe that the first inhabitants of America were primitive or unable to develop noteworthy technology and culture. In reality, Native Americans had a hand in some of the greatest innovations of their time, and some of their inventions are still used today! Below are 10 mind-blowing Native American innovations.

  1. Snow Goggles
    The Inuit tribes of Alaska were the first people to use snow goggles. These were a traditional form of eyewear that was used in the Arctic to prevent snow blindness. As the sun bounces off of the snow, the light can make it very difficult to see and cause temporary eye damage. To prevent this, Inuit tribes crafted goggles from bone, ivory, or wood. The material was then pierced with slits to allow the wearer to see.
  2. Lacrosse
    Lacrosse’s origins can be traced to a tribal game that was played by eastern Woodlands Native Americans and some Plains groups. The game was modified by Europeans much later. Members of the Onondaga, Eastern Cherokee, Mohawk, Ojibwe, and Choctaw tribes all have been recorded as having played the game.
  3. Trade Networks
    When people think of Native Americans, they immediately conjure the thought of self-sufficient peoples who had little to no connection to other tribes. This simply wasn’t true. The Hopewell culture (900-100 B.C.), which primarily flourished in Ohio and eastern North America, developed extensive trade networks. At the Hopewell mounds, anthropologists have found shells from the Gulf Coast, copper from the upper midwest United States, mica from the Appalachian Mountains, and obsidian from the Rocky Mountains. In some cases, these artifacts have traveled from thousands of miles away.
  4. Blue Corn
    Blue corn is a unique variety of corn that looks and tastes different from regular yellow or white corn. The Hopi tribe developed this plant, and now it still remains an essential part of Hopi diet. It has a sweeter flavor than regular corn and has become a staple of modern New Mexican cuisine.
  5. "Ovens"
    Prior to modern ovens, Native Americans still had ingenious ways to cook their food. Archaeologists have discovered the use of “pit-hearths” in central Texas and on the Atlantic seaboard. Native Americans dug a pit in the ground and cooked their food in a very specific way. While rocks were sometimes used, tribes that lacked large quantities of rocks made their own heat stones using water and dirt. These stones were heated and placed at the bottom of the pit. The food was wrapped in vegetation and then placed on top of the stones. Clay was then patted on top of the food and left to cook for a couple of hours or more.
  6. Agricultural Companion Planting
    Once Native American groups transitioned into sedentary lifestyles, farming became necessary. This is when a companion planting technique known as "three sisters farming" was developed. The "three sisters" technique involves growing squash, maize, and beans in the same area to increase production. When planted together, corn provides a structure for the bean vines to climb, beans enrich the soil with nitrogen, and squash chokes out weeds around the plants. Some southwestern tribes such as the Tewa added a fourth plant to the mix,a Rocky Mountain bee plant. This helps pollinate the bees and squash.
  7. Atlatls
    Atlatls were basically the AK-47 of prehistoric times. The atlatl is essentially a hinged tool that attaches to the blunt end of a spear, offering more leverage and greater velocity than if the spear alone was used. It is a long-range weapon that can reach speeds of more than 93 miles per hour. Later, weights called bannerstones were attached to the atlatls to provide an even stronger velocity.  Historically, it could take down any large animal. 
  8. Star Maps
    Native Americans have consistently shown amazing knowledge about cosmology. Originally found wrapped around a meteorite, the Pawnee Star Map is one of the most accurate portrayals of the universe ever discovered. It’s so accurate scientists have determined that the map represents a single night on Aug. 25, 690 A.D. somewhere between midnight and dawn. The map itself is around 300 years old and is something that was passed through the generations. It features Corona Borealis, the Milky Way, and several constellations that still can be seen today.
  9. Landscaping
    Native Americans are some of the first landscapers, and their impressive work can still be seen today. In southeastern United States was a culture known as the "mound builders," ancestors to many tribes that are still around today. Monks Mound, occupied around 900 B.C. in what is now Illinois, is an astounding 100 feet high, 955 feet long, and 775 feet wide. At the base, it is larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza. It’s estimated that the mound took more than 43 million baskets of dirt to create.
  10. Precision Tools
    Spearheads, arrowheads, cutting tools – none of these invaluable Native American innovations would be possible without knapping. Knapping is the process of breaking off chunks of malleable stone using a tougher stone. Obsidian is a popular material that is knapped because it is more precise than any modern surgical tool today. Some doctors have even requested to perform surgeries using knapped obsidian! Today, many Native Americans practice this as a traditional art form, and there are few experts still alive today.
Last Updated: November 13, 2015