Although Central American Indians made wheeled figurines, the wheel as a transportation device was unknown to the Indians until the arrival of Europeans. Instead of wagons, the Plains tribes used the travois. It consisted of two poles bound on either side of an animal, with the other ends dragging along the ground and a mat or bundle tied between them. Dogs, the Indians' only fully domesticated animals, were used before horses were obtained, and could draw only light loads. When horses were acquired, the travois became practical for long journeys.
The principal form of water transport was the canoe. The bark-frame canoe was used in northern areas from Alaska to the Atlantic coast. Framed of spruce wood and covered with bark (usually birch) sewn together and made waterproof with pitch, it was light and could be easily carried. The dugout canoe was used on the Pacific coast, in the South, and in parts of the northeast and Great Lakes areas. It was made of a single log, hollowed out by burning or cutting. Some dugouts were as much as 100 feet (30 m) long.
The bull boat of Missouri River tribes was made of buffalo hide stretched on a circular framework of willow branches. The balsa, made of rushes tied in bundles, was used by Indians of the Pacific Slope. Some tribes had no boats; the Blackfeet, for example, used only temporary rafts.
Through the many millennia of the Paleolithic period and the Neolithic period no use of the wheel was known to humans. Its use was not known to the Native Americans until the Europeans introduced it. In the Old World it came into use in the Bronze Age, when oxen and horses were first used as draft animals and wheeled vehicles were devised. Wheels for vehicles were at first solid wooden disks; spoked wheels were introduced c.2700 B.C. The potter's wheel was invented in the Bronze Age, earlier pottery being made, like that of the Native Americans, without the use of the wheel. See gear; tire; wheel and axle.
See R. J. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology (1955); E. Tunis, Wheels (1955); W. Owen et al., ed., Wheels (1972).
If this timing is correct, and the Bering Land Bridge migration occurred 10-20 thousand years ago, and the group may have lived in isolation for several thousand years before the crossing, then the Native Americans left home before the wheel was invented.