Table of Contents


“In fact, the two-dimensional diagrams of the quipu, which have their own long history of more than a hundred years, can now be generated digitally, with perhaps Olaf Witkowski’s in 2007 being the first of these efforts. Figure 15 shows a cutting-edge example: Ashok Khosla’s Khipu Field Guide initiative, developed almost 15 years after Witkowski… The attention paid to detail by all these projects anticipates a future in which each digital quipu will be paired with its own interactive three-dimensional model, either computer-generated or based on photographs of its physical strings.”
Quipus - Mil años de historia anudada en los Andes y su futuro digital - Manuel Medrano
“I love The Khipu Field Guide by Ashok Khosla, because it presents diagrams of khipus that are easier to analyze than photos.”
ArchaeoEd - A Podcast about Ancient Civilizations of the Americas - Dr. Edwin Barnhart

“Readers interested in visualizations and computational analyses of OKR data are encouraged to explore the Khipu Field Guide (KFG), a new project by independent researcher Ashok Khosla. In addition to highly-detailed symbolic renderings of over 600 OKR khipus, users can explore interactive graphics accompanying Khosla’s exploratory data analysis. The KFG investigations are a welcome addition to previous computational work on the OKR carried out by Carrie Brezine and Jon Clindaniel.”
Keys to Mathematical Treasure Chests: Andean Khipus – Quantitative Research and Digital Analysis
Manuel Medrano (Harvard University)

UR049 - A “banded” khipu.


UR049 - A schematic drawing of the same Khipu, arranged to show its primary cord, pendant cords, and subsidiary cords.


Welcome to The Khipu Field Guide - Travel back in time to the Inkan empire of the 13th through 15th century. Explore how the Inkas used cloth to communicate and record commitments. Journey with me, as I work with other khipu scholars, to decipher the enigma behind a knotted mop of camelid yarn.

Containing 650 khipus, the Khipu Field Guide is the world’s largest digital database of Inka khipus, ready for analysis and viewing in schematic form.

This site has six sections.

  • An INTRODUCTION describing khipu in brief and how bits of knotted, colored yarn map to digital drawings.
  • A SKETCHBOOK to view the khipu using a symbolic likeness of the original cords and knots.
  • A NOTEBOOK analyzing the khipu, by type, cluster, cords, etc.
  • A DATABOOK providing the technical details of this project.
  • A BIBLIOGRAPHY providing books and articles about khipu.
  • An ABOUT section describing the personal aims and goals of the fieldguide.

1. Introduction

If you’re not a khipu scholar, the Introduction is a good place to start. You’ll learn how khipus are constructed, what this site is about, and whether or not modern scholars can decipher Inkan khipus.

2. SketchBook

Use the SketchBook to view the world’s largest catalog of digitally reconstructed khipus, rendered symbolically, from measurement tables extracted and reconstructed from a variety of khipu authors and sources.

3. NoteBook

From the NoteBook you can access exploratory information about khipus - their construction, how they vary, and how they can be analyzed.

Digital analyses of data have come a long way in the last twenty years. An extensive data-science study of khipus, by Manuel Medrano and myself, will hopefully make its way through the academic publication process in 2023. Meanwhile, the following gives a taste of what can be discovered using modern data-science techniques.

3.1 Khipu Type Analysis

Various types of analysis can be done on khipus to categorize them into types - accounting vs possibly narrative. Calendar vs census, etc. Analyzing khipus often involves a micro level analysis first (shown later), so this is a circular process. Start high-level, work down, project up, etc.

Khipus - An Introduction to Mathematical Analysis

3.2 Khipu Cord Cluster and Cord Analysis

Most of the detailed khipu analysis is done at the cord and cord cluster level. In this section “fieldmarks” such as cord twist, knot direction, etc., are common or significant.

Cords - A Preliminary Exploratory Data Analysis (EDA)

4. DataBook

If you are interested in the technical details of this project, then the DataBook is the place to browse.

DataBook Chapters:

5. Bibliography

Would you like to learn more about khipus? Kylie Quave’s Bibliography is a great place to start.