Peru IX-An Adventure in the Land of the Incas

Khipus (or Quipus)

You probably are wondering what the picture above has to do with our journey in Peru.

Think for a moment about all the achievements the Incas (and those before them) accomplished. Obviously they had quite incredible intelligence to be capable of constructing seismic proof buildings, terraces, quarrying huge blocks of stone, moving them, shaping them to fit tightly together, knowing when and what to plant on the terraces, preparing for and storing food in case of disasters, as well as managing a huge empire that covered hundreds if not thousands of miles. 

Accumulated knowledge is passed on from past to succeeding generations in some manner that it can be referred to over the years. We recognize written types of language preserved on rocks, papyrus, hides, paper, in manuscripts of some sort as records of when and how things were done. For civilizations to advance, they must have forms of communication for reference and understanding whereupon they can progress over the years. Examples that come to mind are the cave drawings of early mankind or Native Americans with symbols etched upon rocks and then others which evolved into more sophisticated symbols as with the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians. Over the centuries written languages furthered civilizations and documents that are preserved have helped current peoples better interpret and understand those early records of history.

Now, I hope this is helping you start to wonder, “then how did the Incas, and those before them, communicate detailed information from generation to generation?”. This is a topic that my travel companion Tom considered far before I gave it any thought. His investigations into how the Incas passed on knowledge, without a written language will help us all get a better idea of that topic.

What you are seeing above is an example of how the Incas communicated and recorded information - on strings. They used the strings and a system of tying knots on the strands, with meanings they developed and understood to record and preserve their knowledges. When the Spanish arrived and overtook the Incas, much of the native culture was destroyed or otherwise lost. What was understood by the knotted strings, called khipus (or quipus) was that they were their means of recording numbers, as in how much of a crop was planted, harvested, stored, as a census recording the population, or in whatever means an accurate accounting was needed. More recently, discoveries and developing understandings are that colored strings and knots are also a form of alphabet, thus recording names. 

While not yet fully understood, the khipus, while primitive in our eyes, were (are) a rather sophisticated, yet simple form of record keeping. The Inca had messengers (runners) who tirelessly sped from place to place carrying messages throughout the empire. In those incidences, they carried the knotted stings. While not a written communication, the strings that have survived may have lasted better than if by a written language. 

Seems pretty ingenious to me, sort of like secret codes. 

For you own discovery on this, please click on the link below.

(Im Knot Stringing you along on this…try Knot to get all tied up in the details). © Donald E. Kline 2012