- Museum number
Quipu or khipu; knotted cotton or wool(?)
- Production date
- 1430-1530 (?)
Length: 71 centimetres
Width: 104 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- McEwan 2009, p.70
Cotton khipu (also quipu). Inca, Peru, 15th-16th century
The word khipu comes from the Quechua word for knot, and khipus are textile objects consisting of methodically arranged knotted and coloured cords woven in cotton and occasionally camelid fibre. They are composed of one primary cord with pendant cords and branching subsidiary cords attached. The numbers, positions and colours of the cords together with the numbers, direction and sequencing of different kinds of knows were all used to encode and immense amount of information. They were already known several hundred years earlier in Tiwanaku and Wari, but the Incas perfected their use as sophisticated accounting devices using a decimal system.
Khipus were portable, rolled up in a spiral to be stored and carried from one place to another. Specialized Inca administrators known as khipucamayuq were charged with responsibility for safeguarding these key instruments of imperial bureaucracy.
They could read and interpret the stored data ranging from a population census to the taxation and tribute owed by towns and provinces. It is possible, though not yet proven, that they also record other kinds of information or genealogies, the agricultural calendar and perhaps even narrative traditions, all of which await decipherment. The knotting technique used on the khipu illustrated here indicates that it may be a 'narrative' type. After the Spanish conquest, some few were translated into Spanish with the help of native informants and written down by a Spanish scribe. This process of khipu reading, translation and transcription was complicated by the differing interests of those involved. Some six hundred khipus of varying degrees of complexity have been preserved in museum collections and are currently the subject of intensive study.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2012 Mar-Jul, Abu Dhabi, Manarat al Saadiyat, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2012-2013 30 Nov-7 Apr, Bonn, Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2019 Jun-Sept, London, Fashion and Textile Museum, 'Weavers of the Clouds'
- Acquisition date
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number