Khipus and Written Documents

Explore the Santa Valley khipus that have a 'match' with a colonial document.

The case of the Santa Valley

A recently studied case suggests that the information contained in this group of six colonial khipus from the Radicati collection was based on a written document dating from 1670.  

The written document identifies the names of 131 people from six ayllus grouped into two parcialidades—Hanan and Hurin—that are believed to be represented in the 133 groups of six strings contained in the khipus.

Khipu from the Santa Valley (Ancash) (17th Century)MALI, Museo de Arte de Lima

The hypothesis also proposes that the form in which the first cord in each group of six is attached to the primary cord—either observe or reverse—indicates the moiety to which the individuals belonged.    

Khipu from the Santa Valley (Ancash) (17th Century)MALI, Museo de Arte de Lima

Khipu Coding

This relationship between written text and khipus opens up a new perspective on forms of encoding practiced during Colonial times.

Khipu from the Santa Valley (17th Century)MALI, Museo de Arte de Lima

The radiocarbon dating of two of the khipus from the Santa Valley shows that they come from very closely related time periods: 1609 to 1640 AD and 1608 to 1624 AD, respectively. 

An Important Connection

While these dates precede the “Padrón de Indios Tributarios Recuayes” (1670), a census listing of individuals from the Recuay people who were obligated to pay taxes, there is an extensive overlap between the information recorded in the khipu and the contents of that document, making it highly likely that there is a connection between both record-keeping systems in this case.    

The dates may also indicate the use of the Andean record-keeping system for tax collecting purposes, which may have then been documented in written form some years later.

Carlo Radicati's tireless efforts in drawing connections between khipus and the chronicles set to paper by Spanish scribes and other administrative officials during the Colonial period proved that there were clear ties between both record-keeping systems. 

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

The Contributions of Carlo Radicati di Primeglio

The contributions made by Carlo Radicati di Primeglio to the study of khipus are among the most important of the twentieth century.

In a field where archaeologists and historians paid little attention to the study of records kept during the Inca Empire, Radicati played a key role, not only because of his innovative arguments on how to read and interpret khipus,..

but also because of his perseverance in highlighting these objects’ importance when compared with the writing systems developed by other great civilizations of the ancient world.

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