The Incas Developed a Record-keeping System Using

A quipu (khipu) was a method used by the Incas and other aboriginal Andean cultures to proceed records and communicate information using string and knots. In the absence of an alphabetic writing system, this simple and highly portable device achieved a surprising degree of precision and flexibility. Quipu could record dates, statistics, accounts, and fifty-fifty abstract ideas. Quipu are even so used today across South America.

Quipu apply a wide diverseness of colours, strings, and sometimes several hundred knots all tied in diverse means at various heights. These combinations tin can fifty-fifty stand for, in abstruse course, key episodes from traditional folk stories and poetry. In recent years scholars take as well challenged the traditional view that quipu were simply a memory assistance device and get so far as to suggest that quipu may have been progressing towards narrative records and so becoming a viable alternative to written language merely when the Inca Empire complanate.


A typical quipu
consists of a horizontal string or even wooden bar, from which hang whatever number of knotted and coloured strings made from either cotton fiber or wool. Some of the larger quipu
have as many every bit 1500 strings, and these could as well be woven in dissimilar ways suggesting this, too, had a meaning. The diverse color shades used could also carry a specific meaning. And then, too, the type of knot, the position of it on the string, the total number of knots and the sequence of the knots could all combine to create a potentially huge number of meanings. The whole method was based on a decimal positional organisation, with the largest decimal used beingness ten,000. The Inca mathematical system was virtually exactly the same every bit our own organization in employ today. The numbers or units in the organisation on a item quipu are indicated by the strings furthest from the chief string, acting as a sort of primal.

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Different types of knot had different meanings. For case, a knot could point a number from one to nine by the turns of cord within the knot, a figure-of-eight knot could indicate a fixed value, a ‘granny’ knot equalled ten, and a string missing a knot signified zero. Secondary strings could also hang from any single string and these could indicate that this string was an exception or of secondary importance to the other strings. Finally, individual quipu could bring together with others in a specific and meaningful sequence.

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Knots & colours could combine to create a potentially huge number of meanings.

Naturally, to maximise the quipu‘s
potential for data storage, it was better to accept an accompanying oral record and and so in that location grew a body of
experts or masters, the
khipu kamayuq
quipucamayos). These individuals memorized the oral account which fully explained a particular quipu and, as the job was hereditary, the oral part was passed from generation to generation. In that location was a certain pressure attached to the job, however, every bit lapses in retentiveness could exist severely punished.


At Cuzco, the Inca capital, the
khipu kamayuq
were professionals, and likewise keeping official records using knotted cords, they also used quipu as an
aide memoire
to recount stories, myths and poems from the Inca tradition. Quipu were as well used to record imperial conquests and royal claret-lines. They were ideal for recording the demography information for provinces, i.e. total numbers, specific numbers of males and females, children, married and unmarried, etc. Other kinds of data that quipu
were used to tape included accounts, stores, taxes (paid in kind), livestock, land measurements, armies and their equipment, astronomy, and calendars. Quipu were also used, along with a brusk oral description, by Inca postal messengers (chaski).


Claus Ableiter (CC By-SA)

Surviving Examples

Many ancient quipus of the Inca were purposely destroyed when Atawalpa took power and sought to clean the slate of Inca history, and, in particular, destroy the historical tape concerning the reign of his biting rival and one-half-brother, Waskhar. Then, following the Castilian conquest, even more quipu records were sought out and destroyed, the new rulers being highly suspicious of the information they might contain within their knots. As a upshot of these actions, just several hundred examples of quipu survive today. However, quipu are still used by Andean people upwardly and down South America even today, well-nigh often by shepherds and herders as a method to record livestock numbers.

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The Incas Developed a Record-keeping System Using