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Did the ancient Incas leave behind writing after all?

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Inca quipu/Klaus (CC BY-SA 3.0)

People have often wondered how the Incas could have built such a complex civilization without writing anything down. Maybe they did write it down:

The Incas may not have bequeathed any written records, but they did have colourful knotted cords. Each of these devices was called a khipu (pronounced key-poo). We know these intricate cords to be an abacus-like system for recording numbers. However, there have also been teasing hints that they might encode long-lost stories, myths and songs too.

In a century of study, no one has managed to make these knots talk. But recent breakthroughs have begun to unpick this tangled mystery of the Andes, revealing the first signs of phonetic symbolism within the strands. Now two anthropologists are closing in on the Inca equivalent of the Rosetta stone. Daniel Cossins, “We thought the Incas couldn’t write. These knots change everything” at New Scientist (paywall)

It makes sense that if people recorded numbers, they would also record words. Numbers are not self-explanatory.  Are there known contrary instances?

See also: Were humans in North America 130,000 years ago? Some evidence considered. SAPIENS discusses the “chipped rocks, crushed mastodon bones, and reliable dates showing the remains are 130,000 years old”

3 Replies to “Did the ancient Incas leave behind writing after all?

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    After reading the article: WOW!

    It’s a fantastic story, with math, linguistics, cryptography, and plain old adventure. The turning point happened when a local lady heard about the research and revealed that her village had been guarding a secret set of khipus for hundreds of years. They were secret because they were believed to chronicle a rebellion against the Spaniards. The villagers knew the story but had lost the skill of reading the threads.

    Sabine Hyland had already laid out a sequence of combinations based on choice of fiber, color of fiber, and knot patterns, which seemed to yield 95 code groups. Just right for a syllabary. She got access to the sacred khipus for only 48 hours, desperately photographed and noted everything she could, and then started doing classic cryptography to find repeated patterns that agreed with the known names of the people involved in the story.

    At this point only a few of the code groups are firmly identified, but the mapping is convincing enough that the work is moving forward, looking for more known stories.

    The code appears to be somewhat parallel to Chinese ideograms, where one set of symbols carries metaphorical meaning and another set carries phonetic suggestions. In this case the paired sets aren’t expressed as ink on paper; instead they’re colors and fiber types and knot types.

  2. 2
    Nonlin.org says:

    Hey News,

    Did you see this? No evolution then, no evolution now. Were people smarter back then? https://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2018/10/02/how_bird_mummies_fueled_the_first_debate_on_evolution.html

  3. 3
    aarceng says:

    Gee UD, it’s taken you a while to catch up. This was in Creation magazine in 2005.
    Unravelling the knotty khipu code, https://creation.com/unravelling-the-knotty-khipu-code

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