8 Inventions You Probably Didn't Know Were Created by Indigenous Peoples

Believe it or not, many of the tools and items we use in our everyday lives originated at the hands of indigenous tribes. It’s not something commonly taught in schools but in fact, we owe some of our most important modern-day inventions to their creativity and ancient wisdom.

Because indigenous people had to adapt to some of the most difficult environments on the planet with very limited resources, they developed exceptional skills that led them to design utensils, machinery, hunting and gathering systems, medicines and much more in order to enable their survival.

Extremely advanced for their time, society today would be very different without these 8 indigenous inventions from tribes around the world:


The Alaskan Inuit people were the first to build and use kayaks, at least 4,000 years ago.

Kayaks were small, narrow boats made of wood, with a sealed sealskin cabin to prevent the rower from sinking should the boat capsize.

The word kayak means "hunter's boat", as they were originally built for hunting and used to drag animals — seals, caribou, even whales — to shore.

Nowadays, kayaks are used all over the world for recreational activities and their design has not changed, although they are now made using different materials, such as plastic and carbon fiber.


Native Americans made the first syringes to inject medicines in pre-Columbian times. These hypodermic needles were originally made from animal bladders attached to a sharp, hollow cylindrical bone — such as the leg of a prairie chicken, turkey, goose or other bird — which served as the tube.

Their invention was later attributed to Scotsman Alexander Wood in 1853, but our American ancestors had already developed them many centuries before.

Today, the practice of medicine is unimaginable without the use of these vital utensils.


Aboriginal boomerang

Aboriginal boomerang


The boomerang was invented by Australian Aborigines and — contrary to popular belief — never used for hunting, but in rituals and celebrations.

It is said that the first tribe the English encountered in New South Wales in the 18th century were the Turuwals, who shouted "Boom-ma-rang!" as they launched and then caught a curved wooden object. This expression means "Come back cane!", although according to some historians the word comes from the aboriginal term "boomari", which means wind.

Nowadays, the boomerang is used to practice sports and play games, or as a decorative object.


Handmade drawing of Ginger roots

Handmade drawing of Ginger roots


The Amazonian and Andean indigenous peoples of South America pioneered the use of a variety of medicinal plants (leaves, roots, barks, flowers, seeds, resins, and oils) to manage ailments, and their combination to prepare infusions, syrups, plasters and powders that relieved pain and treated disease.

An example of this is ginger: a tubercle we currently use to flavor dishes, which indigenous healers prepared as a medicinal drink to relieve pain or reduce inflammation.

Traditional medicine is part of the cultural legacy of indigenous peoples like the Tacana and Leco, who used quinine, cat's claw and evanta: all plants now recognised by the modern pharmaceutical industry.

Chewing gum

Chewing gum can be traced back to Southeast Mexico and Northern Central America, where it originated as part of Mayan culture over two thousand years ago.

The Mayans made incisions in the bark of the Chicozapote — one of the most abundant trees in the area — so that the sap flowed into containers placed at the base of the trunk. After drying the tree's nectar, a chewy gum was obtained and used to clean the teeth and mouth or curb hunger in fasting rituals.

Today, the habit of chewing gum is widespread throughout the world.

Piercing and Tattoos

Mayan warrior

Mayan warrior

iStock.com/Oleg Elkov

The indigenous Colombians were pioneers in hair removal techniques, hair extensions, 'piercing' and tattoos. From pre-Hispanic times to the present day, the tribes in Colombia have used the body as a canvas; an artistic expression of their culture.

In many different parts of the world, other cultures — such as the Maoris in New Zealand — also used tattooing as a statement of identity.

In some Borneo tribes, perforations were made in different parts of the body to implant piercings that marked the transition from adolescence to maturity.

Nowadays, piercings and tattoos are common across the world for aesthetic reasons, and as an affirmation of individual identity.

Baby bottles

Although some baby feeding utensils were already used by the ancient Egyptians and other cultures, the Native Americans invented the first baby bottle.

Using syringe-like technology, the Indians used bear intestines, which they washed, dried, and greased before attaching a feather as a form of nipple. The mothers then filled them with a mixture of nuts, meat, and water.

Today the baby bottle is an essential item for families all over the world.


Inuit Googles

Inuit Googles


The very first piece of equipment attached to the eyes in order to protect them from the sun’s rays can also be attributed to the creativity of the Inuit people, who manage to survive one of the most extreme climates on the planet.

Made of wood, bone, or ivory, they were originally fastened with strips of whale skin and designed to avoid snow blindness: a frequent and serious problem for the Inuit people that occurred when the snow’s strong reflective power directed damaging ultraviolet rays into the eyes.

Today, all around the world, who doesn't wear sunglasses?


Cover photo: (CC BY 2.0) Inuit kayaker