Lacrosse is merely the best-known indigenous invention. We bring you several examples of indigenous ingenuity.

10 Native Inventions and Innovations That Changed the World

Vincent Schilling

Soon after the arrival of Columbus, detailed descriptions of the inventions of Indigenous Peoples began to make their way back to Europe. Not satisfied that “savages” would be able to generate such innovation, rumors began to spread that the Americas were simply a lost colony of Christians or Israelites. Such rumors still exist today and in fact continue to be discussed by archeologists.

But all of this aside, indigenous cultures have created thousands upon thousands of innovations that are in use today in the most modern of practices, be it a tub of popcorn at the movies, the administering of medicines with surgical precision or the removal of tartar from teeth in modern dentistry. In order to give some more credit where credit is due to our ancestral innovators, here are 10 Native inventions and innovations that changed the world. These are but a few examples of indigenous ingenuity, but highlighting them serves to unswathe yet another facet of hidden history. 

Syringes, or Hypodermic Needles


Though Scotsman Alexander Wood is credited with inventing the syringe in 1853, in pre-Columbian times South American Indians used a type of syringe made from sharpened hollow bird bones attached to small bladders to inject medicine, irrigate wounds or even clean ears.  Additionally, Indigenous healers also used larger and similar instruments for enemas.

Baby Bottles and Formula


Using similar technology as the syringe, the Seneca used washed, dried and oiled bear intestines with a bird quill attached as a form of nipple. Mothers filled them with a mixture of pounded nuts, meat and water.

Oral Contraception


An oral contraceptive is a substance taken by mouth to prevent pregnancy. Recorded instances of American Indians taking such substances date back to the 1700s, more than 200 years before the creation of a man-made substance by western medicine.  One of the herbs used was the stone seed, employed by the Shoshone, while the Potawatomi used the herb dogbane.





On a 1,000-year-old pottery vessel found in Guatemala, a Maya man is shown smoking a roll of tobacco leaves tied with string. The Maya word for smoking was sikkar, which became the Spanish word cigarro. Once settlers had learned from Indians how to cultivate tobacco, cigar factories sprung up. One of them, an early cigar factory in Pennsylvania, gave the cigar its playful moniker the “stogie.”


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Derek Stephen McPhail
Derek Stephen M...
Submitted by Derek Stephen M... on
excellent article. guess the jury is still out on who first invented the canoe. two books worth checking out: "Indian Givers: How Indians Of The Americas Transformed The World" and "Native Roots: How the Indians Enriched America" by Jack Weatherford.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Wonderful lists and I wasn't even aware of so many of these useful items. Of course Europeans couldn't credit American Natives for inventing these things, they would have had to admit that A, we were human, and B, civilization DID exist here prior to their arrival.