5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know Were Invented By Native Americans

The contributions of Native Americans are as numerous as they are important to our everyday lives. Taking them for granted, we don’t often discuss where things like bunk beds or smoked buffalo jerky come from.

How many of these did you know were born from Native American imaginations?

1. Avocados

Long before there were funny Super Bowl commercials or even a Super Bowl (sometime between 3400 and 2300, B.C., if you were wondering), native farmers in the Valley of Mexico had domesticated the avocado.

Guacamole came a bit later, in the 16th Century. We have the Aztec peoples to thank for that.

2. Hockey

A game called “shinny” was the favorite sport of many American Indian tribes, including the Sauk, Foxes and Assinboine. Players would pass a buckskin ball up and down a field using a curved stick, seeking an opportunity to whack the ball into the opposing team's goal. During the winter, they played on the ice.

Sound familiar?

Needless to say, European settlers were intrigued when they first saw the sport in action circa 1500.

3. Camouflage

When Native hunters throughout the Americas stalked game, they dressed with style and purpose—wearing the hides of animals they sought.

Some were especially creative: hunters in California and the Great Basin built blinds in which they could hide when tracked birds. These techniques were integral to both hunting and warfare.

4. Sunscreen

Spring and summer are just around the corner, which means it's almost time to break out the sunblock. Did you know that Native tribes of the Northeast used sunflower oil for protection against harmful UV rays?

In the Southwest, American Indians used a mixture of western wallflower and water. Others fought burns with the sap of the aloe plant. Today, aloe is grown commercially to produce aloe vera.

Both the Mayans and the Aztecs found ways to extract resin from the Central American sapodilla tree, subsequently cooking and drying it to create a chewable latex. They used it for the same things we do today: alleviating hunger, thirst and of course bad breath.

5. Popcorn

This will blow your mind: Popcorn is almost 10,000 years old.

The crop spread quickly out of Mexico as both a snack and a decoration, filling stomachs and adorning ceremonial headdresses. While investigating tombs in Peru, researchers unearthed kernels completely intact and ready for popping.

To learn more about how the National Museum of the American Indian is telling the whole American story—past, present, and future—share your email below.



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