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Native American Firsts

Quechua girl and llama

The January issue of National Geographic magazine is called “The Firsts Issue”. I think that Native Americans might “take issue” with some of the “firsts”. Chocolate is one of the very few firsts attributed to ancient Americans. So, maybe we should revisit this topic from a Native American bias.

Since the earliest date for American occupation only goes back to 16,000 B.C., I guess we’ll have to start there to see how Native Americans compete with mankind’s firsts. Well, on the National Geographic Firsts Chart only the control of fire is listed as a first before 16,000 B.C. So, everything else is fair game.

Mayan wheeled toy

So, let’s start with “domesticated livestock” and the “wheel”. I am linking the two because without domesticated livestock, the wheel for hauling things is pretty useless. There is scant evidence that Native Americans domesticated livestock, but they did use llamas for pack animals in South America. The terrain where Llamas were used, however, would not have lent itself to wheeled carts. However, the widely held opinion that Native Americans failed to invent the wheel is wrong. Many “wheeled” objects have been unearthed in the Americas. But, they were not for carts or transportation, they were small objects probably used by children as a pull toy.

Ancient Mayan Ball Court

Next on the chart of firsts is the Olympic Games, 776 B.C. Anyone who has visited the Mayan ruins in Central America has probably seen the many ball courts they built. The ball game has been an integral part of Native American culture for as far back as 3,000 B.C. It is part of most Native American origin tales. Of course, these examples are not THE Olympic Games, but I think Native Americans are a contender for the invention of the first team sports.

Canisters filled with imported chocolate found in Chaco Canyon

Chocolate was a Native American invention and, according to National Geographic’s chart was first taken to Europe in 1519. 1000 year-old jars found in Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon were filled with chocolate drinks. Many of the “Great Houses” in Chaco Canyon are thought to have been used to store grain going back to B.C. I submit this as a spoiler for National Geographic’s claim that the first grain warehouse was built in 1865 in Iowa.

Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan

Rising ten stories high, the first skyscraper listed is Chicago’s steel-frame Home Insurance building built in 1885. Of course, that meager structure is dwarfed by the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan built in 100 B.C. And although the Pyramid of the Sun is larger volume wise, the Pyramid of Khufu, built around 2500 B.C. is taller. I’m not sure why the Home Insurance building qualifies as the first skyscraper?

Other notable Native American firsts include:

The first written record of the Supernova 0f 1054 was painted under a ledge in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, right after it occurred.


The first written Native American constitution was written by the Cherokee iin 1827. The Cherokee used an alphabet invented by the Cherokee Sequoyah.

Star Chart of the Skidi Pawnee

The first written star chart was created by the Skidi Pawnee tribe. It was drawn on a tanned hide and used to forecast ritual ceremonies. It includes many of the constellations we are familiar with today.

This is a small sample, of course, but when we are praising the great civilizations and cultures of the world, let’s not overlook the ancient Americas.

–Courtney Miller

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