Quipu: A Modern Mystery
The Incas had a system of accounting that relied on the quipu. Cords of various colours were attached to a main cord with knots. The number and position of knots as well as the colour of each cord represented information about commercial goods and resources. Quipu means knot in Quechua, the native language of the Andes.
The quipu was also useful for census-taking and provided a mass of statistical information for the government.
Messengers could carry a quipu from Quito to Cuzco in 3 days, less time than it sometimes takes by car.
Archeologists are now suggesting that authors used the quipu to compose and preserve their epic poems and legends. Because there were relatively few words in Quechua, they could be used as pronunciation keys on the cords. Then each knot on a cord designated a syllable of the word represented at the head of the cord. For example, the name of Pachacamac, god of earth and time, was divided into four syllables. So if two knots were tied close to the key word, the author had written the word 'pacha' or 'earth.' But if the two knots were tied further down the cord, they indicated the last two syllables of the god's name and meant the word 'camac' or 'time.'
We still don't know exactly how to use the quipu. The significance of the knots and colours remains a mystery. Maybe you can figure it out.
These are some of the few quipu still in existence:
ACATANGA'S QUIPU, photo courtesy of the owner, Prof. Clara Miccinelli, Naples,
To learn how to make your own quipu click here
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