I want to know about Native American history. I am young, so I have not learned a awful lot about them. I want to know what kind of things they used for technology, and for what. So my question is:

What was Native American technology like?

  • 2
    Could you please refine this question so as to include a particular time period, people and location? Very different indigenous peoples have lived on the American continent with varying levels of technology. For example, the Cree and Inca are two rather different kettle of fish. You may wish to check this question out: history.stackexchange.com/questions/1000/…
    – BOB
    Jan 21, 2016 at 18:54
  • 3
    Expanding upon BOB's comment, native-american can contain everything from Inuit in the far North of North America to Inca's in the South. There are somewhere plus of 10,000 years of tribes. Help us help you.
    – CGCampbell
    Jan 21, 2016 at 19:03
  • 1
    Please check google and wikipedia and refine your question. The easiest one sentence answer is that they were pre-industrial.
    – MCW
    Jan 21, 2016 at 19:14
  • 1
    Modern technology is a poor comparison. Native American technology can be compared with the Bronze Age technology in Europe and Middle East.
    – Alex
    Jan 21, 2016 at 20:25
  • @user16124, I've edited the question to drop the comparison to modern technology, as it seemed like a distraction from your main goal. If you'd like to revert the change, feel free to do so.
    – Joe
    Jan 22, 2016 at 1:45

1 Answer 1


Let's start by making two assumptions:

  • We're talking about the people who lived all throughout the Americas, from the far Arctic north to Tierra del Fuego in the far south. (Sometimes people use "Native American" to mean only the people who lived in what later became the US, but that's not a meaningful distinction before the US came to exist.)

  • We're talking about their technology around 1492, before the arrival of Columbus. (After 1492, Native American technology became more and more intertwined with European technology, so the result isn't strictly one or the other.)

With those in mind, let's get to the answer.

Native American technology had enormous variation, both in level of development and in the environment it was adapted for. In some places, living was easy enough that very little technology was needed. In harsh environments, survival was only possible through specialized technology. In other areas, cities and empires rose up, and technology with it.

In Old World terms, I'd say you had everything from Paleolithic hunter-gatherers to Bronze Age city-states and empires.

Specialized Survival

In the far north, the Inuit had adapted very well to life in a place where no crops grow. They had developed excellent dogsleds and ocean-going kayaks, and were skilled at hunting whales, walruses, and other large and dangerous creatures using things that could be made in that harsh landscape. Their materials were mostly animal parts (like ivory, bone, and hide), but they made as much use of meteoric iron as they could. Their Arctic survival technology was very good, but given the climate and the low population, they didn't have much else.

Plentiful Food, Low Tech

Some areas had less technological development, like California. The Ohlone lived in an area where acorns were plentiful, the air was warm, and very little else was needed for survival. Unsurprisingly, their technology stayed at a low hunter-gatherer level.

Cities and Empires

At the other end of the scale, there were massive cities and empires in the Americas. The city of Tenochtitlan had a population of around 250,000 people at its height, with enormous stone buildings, streets, bridges, and marketplaces. The Incan Empire organized a massive feudal labor system to build over 20,000 miles of paved roads, from Columbia to Argentina. The Mayan city-states developed a complete writing system, recording kings, wars, stories, and impressive astronomy. In the more urban parts of the Americas (like around the Mississippi), vast trade networks developed to carry goods over long distances. You could find copper working, paper books, irrigation, and many other technological crafts.

Things to Read Next

As you can see, this is a huge range to explore. If you'd like to learn more about Native American technology, you'll have to get more specific.

First, take a look at how you can divide up the Americas into similar culture/climate groups. As always, any division will be a crude one, but it helps you get a handle on what things were like. If you read about one southwestern pueblo, you'll have a better picture of life in the other pueblos, but it won't help you understand the people living in the Andes very much.

Next, remember that the Americas were not static. Like in the opposite hemisphere, tribes wandered, traded, and conquered over very long distances. Where you find a tribe on a map might just be where they lived at the moment of first contact by Europeans -- they might have lived there for thousands of years, they might have just moved into the area, or they might not have existed as a tribe for very long. All that moving around and interacting means that technology (along with culture, language, genetics, etc.) spread along certain routes and not others.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.