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Khipu fragments

Dallas Museum of Art

Dallas Museum of Art

Andean cultures did not have a recognizable writing system prior to the Spanish conquest in the early 1530s; however, they did utilize a system of recording through knotted cords, known as _quipu_ (_khipu_; “knot” in Quechua). _Quipu_ that date to the Late Horizon (1400-1532 C.E.) and early Spanish Colonial period (1400-1570 C.E.) vary in structure, from numeric records to “anomalous” types that possibly record more abstract concepts. Spanish chroniclers cite their use by specialists, known as _quipucamayoc_ (_khipucamayuq_), for recording census, taxes, and stored goods such as dried maize and potatoes. Early forms of _quipu_ were used during the Middle Horizon (600-1000 C.E.), under Huari (Wari) cultural influence.


This Inca-style _quipu_ exhibits a numerical structure based on the Andean decimal system. The number of loops in a knot indicates the numerical value, while the placement of the knot along the vertical subsidiary cord references its place value (1s, 10s, 100s, 1000s, 10000s). Different fibers and knot directions were employed, perhaps as markers of particular information.


**Adapted from**

Kimberly L. Jones, PhD, _Inca: Conquests of the Andes / Los Incas y las conquistas de los Andes_, Label text, 2015.

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