Guide Knotted Strings

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A single khipu has multiple knotted strings, in different colors, all hanging vertically from one horizontal string.

Each knot, depending on what type of knot it is and where it's placed represents some kind of number. Gary Urton and Carrie Brezine of Harvard University studied a set of 21 khipu from the Inkan administrative center of Puruchuco, which is on the central coast of Peru. They describe their findings in the 12 August issue of the journal Science. To understand what they learned about the Khipu, it helps to know a little more about Inkan society. The empire began in the 15th century and lasted only about a hundred years, when the European conquerors arrived, in The Inka emperor was called the Sapa Inca, and his orders were carried out by regional and local branches of government.

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Male workers all had to spend a certain number of days of the year working on government projects, such as farming land owned by the government. Then, the food they produced, say bushels of corn, was sent back to the government as a "tribute," or tax.

Urton and Brezine identified different categories in seven of the 21 khipu they studied. All the khipu in this group of seven were used to record the numbers of workers and the tributes they produced. The lowest level of khipu, probably kept by officials at the most local branches of government, had the most detail. Khipus are made of a series of cotton or wool strings hanging from a main cord.

Knotted Strings And Chili Peppers Add Up To New Evidence For Taxation In The Inka Empire

Each string may have several knots, with the type and location of the knot conveying meaning. The colour of the strands used to make the string and the way the strands are twisted together may also be part of the khipus' system of storing and relaying information. Researchers have long had a basic understanding of the numerical system incorporated in the khipus, where knots represent numbers and the relation between knots and strings can represent mathematical operations, like addition and subtraction.

But researchers have been unable to identify the meaning of any possible non-numerical signifiers in khipus, and as a result they cannot read any non-mathematical words or phrases. Now the Incahuasi researchers hope that by studying the khipus and comparing them with others in a large database, they may find that the khipus discovered with the peanuts contain a colour, knot or other signifier for "peanut". The same goes for those found with chilli peppers, beans and corn.


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Patricia Landa, an archaeological conservator, painstakingly cleans and untangles the khipus at her house in Lima. For now, the 29 khipus from Incahuasi, which are about years old, are kept in an unassuming brick house in a residential neighbourhood in Lima, along with a scattering of artefacts from other excavations, including two mummies of a child and a dog , some bags of human bones, dozens of fragile textiles rolled up between layers of paper, and numerous pots meticulously reassembled from shards.

The house belongs to Patricia Landa, an archaeological conservator, who also keeps a menagerie of cats and dogs, including three hairless Peruvian dogs of the kind once raised by the Incas for food. It is Landa who takes the Incahuasi khipus, some of which were found neatly rolled up and others in snarled jumbles, and painstakingly cleans and untangles them and prepares them for researchers to decipher.

I say, 'Excuse me for disturbing your rest but you're helping us to understand your ancestors'. Incahuasi, which means "house of the Inca emperor," was a city used in the late 15th and early 16th centuries as the base of operations for the Inca invasion of Peru's southern coast, after which it became a thriving administrative centre, according to Chu, the archaeologist.

It sat in the arid hills above the green valley of the Ca??

The Inkas’ knotted ‘khipu’ code is proof of a civilisation far more advanced then we realise

The storehouse where the khipus were found was probably used to keep food needed to maintain the large number of troops deployed in the invasion. The Incas, who were highly organised and governed a vast area, would have used khipus to keep track of provisions, and copies of the string records were probably sent to an administrative centre, such as Cusco, the Inca capital, where they could be read, checked and perhaps filed.

The Incahuasi excavation has even turned up what are essentially duplicate sets of khipus tied together, which the researchers believe could have been made when the same products were counted twice - perhaps to guarantee accurate bookkeeping.

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One khipu found at the site had its knots untied, suggesting that the information stored there had been "erased" by the accountants so that the khipu could be reused, Landa said. The khipus found at Incahuasi appear to be all about counting beans, literally.