Welcome to The Khipu Field Guide - Travel back in time with me to the 16th Century and the Inkan empire. Explore how the Inkas used cloth to communicate and record commitments.

This site has four sections.

  • An INTRODUCTION describing khipu in brief, and the aims of this site
  • 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 CODEBOOK providing the technical details of this project.

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 511 khipu, rendered symbolically, from measurement tables contained in the Harvard Khipu Database.

3. NoteBook

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

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 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.

3.3 Ascher Cord Relationships

Marcia Ascher, who wrote The Code of the Khipu with her anthropologist husband Robert Ascher, did an outstanding job at exploring the mathematical relationships of "accounting" khipus. That work is reviewed and expanded here: Marcia Ascher's Mathematical Analyses

3.4 Cord Color Analysis

In 2015, Sabine Hyland visited the village of Collata, where she was invited to study 17th to 18th century khipus that had been secretly held for centuries. She discovered, in the knot plys and immense color range, that these khipus had a phonetic basis. Could cord color be the key to unlocking khipu language?

An attempt at understanding color usage starts here: Cord Color Analysis

4. CodeBook

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

5. Bibliography

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