Traditional Way of Life
all Native Americans, trade was an important economic activity.
The early empire of Teotihuacán
in Mexico was founded on the manufacture
and export of blades of obsidian, a natural volcanic glass
that made the best stone knives.
centuries later, the Aztecs organized
their conquests by sending merchants into other kingdoms
to develop trade, act as spies, and help plan conquest if
the foreign ruler failed to give favorable terms to Aztec
In the Inca Empire excellent
highways were built over difficult mountain terrain in order
to move quantities of local specialty products in pack trains
of llamas. Trade was also conducted by sea along South America
and around Mexico and the Caribbean.
Much sea trade was carried in large sailing rafts or, in
the Caribbean, in canoes made from
Trade goods in Mesoamerica and
the Andes included foodstuffs, manufactured items such as
cloth, knives, and pottery, and luxuries such as jewelry,
brilliant tropical bird feathers, and chocolate. Both medicinal
and hallucinogenic drugs were widely traded. Goods were
bought and sold in large open markets in towns and cities.
Outside the kingdoms of Mesoamerica and the Andes, trade
was often carried on by traveling parties who were received
in each village by its chief, who supervised business as
the people gathered around the trader. In many areas, including
California and the
Eastern Woodlands, small shells or shell beads-called
wampum in the Eastern Woodlands-were
used as money.
traders carried their goods on their backs or in canoes,
trade goods were usually relatively light, small items.
Furs and bright-colored feathers were valued in trade nearly
western North America dried salmon, fish oil, and fine baskets
were major trade products, and in eastern North America
expertly tanned deer hides, copper, catlinite pipe-bowl
stone, pearls, and conch shells were widely traded.
traders and Native Americans exchanged many items,
including food, guns, and blankets. Among the most
profitable trading items were furs from animals
such as the beaver. Usually Native Americans would
trap the animals, skin them, and then bring the
furs to the traders who would ship them to Europe.
The French dominated the early years of the trade,
but competition with the British and American colonists
grew more intense during the years before the French
and Indian War.
- see also
Pre Columbian Art & Architecture