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News Release 05-137

Inka Textile Devices Served as Business Ledgers

Computer analysis reveals numerical and other patterns in knotted objects

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Anthropologists at Harvard University have found evidence that ancient Inka accountants shared numbers across their sprawling bureaucratic hierarchy using khipus, aggregations of knotted strings that served to record information in the Andean empire. The finding sheds new light on the uses of khipus, used by Inkans in lieu of the two-dimensional writing favored by other ancient civilizations. See examples of the objects from the Harvard University Khipu Database Project.

Credit: Gary Urton, the Khipu Database Project, Harvard University/Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation


Knotted "khipus" probably served as ledgers for Inka building projects like Machu Picchu.

Massive Inka construction projects like the city of Machu Picchu in Peru, required detailed record keeping of finances and labor. New research shows that knotted strings known as "khipus" probably served as ledgers.

Credit: NASA

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