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The Inca Khipu: Knotted-Cord Record Keeping in the Andes

  • Gary Urton

The knotted-stringed instrument used for record keeping in the Inca empire, known as khipu, from Quechua, “knot” [Note 1], was the subject of considerable interest from the earliest days following the Spanish invasion of the Andes, beginning in 1532. Early postconquest reports of encounters with Inca record keepers tell of old men carrying bundles of strings with which they recounted all manner of information pertaining to the Andean past—from census figures for this or that province to details of the deeds performed by each of the dozen kings that had ruled before the arrival of the Europeans (Cieza 1967; Pizarro 1920).

The recording device in question was a construction of knotted, colorful strings made of spun and plied camelid hair or cotton fiber (Figure 41.1). These devices were used by Inca state record keepers for retaining different types of administrative records and for registering information consulted in the production of historical and other types of narrative performances (Cobo 1983; Garcilaso de la Vega 1966; Mackey et al. 1990; Quilter and Urton 2002; Urton 1998). While it remains uncertain how narratives were produced from the knotted-string registers, we understand a good deal about how quantitative information and statistical data were recorded.

Keywords

Cotton Fiber Administrative Practice Recording Technology Middle Horizon Record Keeper 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gary Urton
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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