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Wrenches, Wetsuits and the First Duck Dynasty: 5 More Game-Changing Native Inventions

As we survey the vast array of Native innovations that have been introduced to today’s modern world, it comes as no surprise there is enough material for yet a third installation at ICTMN, this time listing the not so well-known game changers. In school curriculums, Native culture is generally credited with bows and arrows, clay pots and corn—but we know better.

To add a bit more credit where the credit is certainly due, here is a list of More Indian Innovations That Changed Our World, courtesy of American Indian Contributions to the World: 15,000 Years of Inventions and Innovations, by Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield (Facts on File, 2001).

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The Wrench

The Paleo Indians in what is now Montana used a wrench made of bone to grip and twist the tops of their spears. The wrench was 18 inches long and resembled a large, flat needle. The eye was about an inch in diameter and would only work with green, pliable wood.

Take that, Craftsman.

Photo: Thinkstock

Putting a wrench in Euro-centric thinking, the wrench was part of Turtle Island ingenuity long before settlers arrived.

Wet Suits/Flotation Devices

Before the existence of wetsuits or life preservers, the Inuit of western Greenland had developed a combination wetsuit and flotation device to keep them alive for hours in case they fell overboard during a hunt. This wetsuit was made of stripped sealskin, with an opening in the head that could be tightened around the face with a drawstring. Gloves and booties were sewn onto the suit.

Photo: Thinkstock

The Inuit who invented the wetsuit/flotation device probably never saw this one coming.

Duck and Fish Decoys

Call it the original Duck Dynasty. Indians living in Northwest Utah 3,000 years ago are credited with creating the first duck decoys. Archeologists have found decoys in the Lovelock Caves of Nevada that date back to 1000 B.C. They were made out of cattails, or from the skin of an actual duck stretched over a cattail frame. Some hunters might have worn these fake ducks on their heads and pulled the unsuspecting live ducks from underwater.

Hunters from the Chippewa, Menominee, Ottawa, Santee Dakota and Potawatomi also used small fish decoys made of shells or wood, often scented with herbs appealing to fish. And yes, many tribes also used auditory decoys such as a duck call to lure animals and waterfowl.

Photo: Thinkstock

Which one is real? Hint: None.)

Dental Inlays and Fillings

Before Columbus even landed in the Bahamas, the Maya of 1500 B.C. were filling cavities with dental inlays made of jade, gold, hematite and turquoise. This was no rock shoved into the hole in a tooth, either. These inlays were precisely crafted and aesthetically created to fit into lower and upper teeth, right down to the incisors and canines.

Photo: Thinkstock

The ancient Mayans thought of this first.

Diabetes Medication

Before the arrival of Europeans to the Americas, diabetes was virtually unheard of to Indigenous Peoples here. But by the 1930s they had apparently adapted. That’s the decade that a Canadian physician learned that Native people in British Columbia had been using something called devil’s club to stave off the ill effects of diabetes.

In the 1940s, doctors began utilizing plant-based oral medicines for diabetes, in a practice that became part of standard care by the 1960s.

Photo: Thinkstock

Once diabetes came on the scene, American Indians quickly adapted, using this plant known as devil's club to assuage the symptoms.