Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Talking Knots of the Inka

Talking Knots of the Inka - Paper on the Inka accounting system that used knotted strings called quipus to record numerical data.

From the site:

An Inka accounting system that used knotted strings called quipus to record numerical data has long been known to scholars. The complexity and number of knots indicated the contents of warehouses, the number of taxpayers in a given province, and census figures. Were quipus also used to record calendars, astronomical observations, accounts of battles and dynastic successions, and literature? If so, all knowledge of such use has been lost--or has it?

At conference of Andean scholars this past June, Laura Laurencich Minelli, a professor of Precolumbian studies at the University of Bologna, described what she believes to be a seventeenth-century Jesuit manuscript that contains detailed information on literary quipus. Surfacing at a time when the decipherment of these string documents is at a standstill, the manuscript, if authentic, could be a Rosetta Stone for Andean scholarship.

Found in the family papers of Neapolitan historian Clara Miccinelli, the manuscript consists of nine folios measuring eight by 11 inches with Spanish, Latin, and ciphered Italian texts. Included in the document are three half-pages of drawings signed "Blas Valera" and an envelope containing a wool quipu fragment. The manuscript, folded in eighths, had been bound in a chestnut-colored cover bearing the title Historia et Rudimenta Linguae Piruanorum, or History and Rudiments of the Language of the Peruvians.

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