7 Things to Know About Khipus

What we know about this undeciphered language

MALI, Museo de Arte de Lima

Khipu, UNMSM Colección Radicati de Quipus, Fundación Temple Radicati - UNMSM (1400/1532)MALI, Museo de Arte de Lima

1. Khipu = Knot

The word khipu comes from the Quechua word for “knot”.

Khipu, UNMSM Colección Radicati de Quipus, Fundación Temple Radicati - UNMSM (1400/1532)MALI, Museo de Arte de Lima

2. Material

Pre-Columbian khipus were made of cotton and camelid fibers.

Khipu, UNMSM Colección Radicati de Quipus, Fundación Temple Radicati - UNMSM (1400/1532)MALI, Museo de Arte de Lima

3. The Three Types of Inca Knots

Incas used three types of knots: single, long, and figure-eight knots.

Khipu, UNMSM Colección Radicati de Quipus, Fundación Temple Radicati - UNMSM (1400/1532)MALI, Museo de Arte de Lima

4. Meaning Behind Colour

Khipu cords were dyed of different colors and these tones held relevant meaning for people who could read them.  

Khipu, UNMSM Colección Radicati de Quipus, Fundación Temple Radicati - UNMSM (1400/1532)MALI, Museo de Arte de Lima

5. Meaning Behind Distance

The distance between knots also held important information.

Khipu, UNMSM Colección Radicati de Quipus, Fundación Temple Radicati - UNMSM (1400/1532)MALI, Museo de Arte de Lima

6. Zero Knots

A cord with no knots identified the concept of zero.  

Khipu found in Inkawasi, Cañete (1400/1532) by Inca CultureMALI, Museo de Arte de Lima

7. Numerical and Storytelling Recordings

Of the total known khipus, we know that 85% recorded numerical information. Only 15% of known khipus should have recorded stories.

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