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How the Inca Used Intricately-Knotted Cords, Called Khipu, to Write Their Histories, Send Messages & Keep Records

The word Quipu means knot in Quechua. Khipu (sometimes spelled Quipu) were colored waxed thread or strings used to collect data and keep records, Via Openculture

Those of us who learned to write in a (mostly) phonetic language learned to take it for granted that writing should correspond (roughly) to sound. Then we learned of the pictographs, ideographs, and logograms of the Chinese alphabet, or of Ancient Egyptian or Mayan, or of other non-phonemic orthographies, and we were forced to revise earlier assumptions. Those who pursue the study of symbolic systems even further will eventually come to meet khipu, the Incan system of record-keeping that uses intricately knotted rope.

Khipu, long thought an abacus-like means of bookkeeping, has recently been acknowledged as much more than that, countering a scholarly view Daniel Cossins summarizes at New Scientist as the belief that the Incas, despite their technological and political “sophistication… never learned to write.” This European logocentrism (in the Derridean sense), persisted for centuries despite some evidence to the contrary four hundred years ago.

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