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Inca secrets may lie in knots

The Inca shared records with the conquistadores; they may have drawn from a three-dimensional language

By Steven Edwards

New research suggests the Inca, who controlled the largest pre-Columbian empire of the Americas, did have the means to record language despite long being considered a civilization that had failed to develop writing.

The hidden history of Inca rule, which extended up and down the Andes for 100 years before the Spanish conquest of 1532, may be contained in the Incas’ famous knotted strings, called khipu, the latest research indicates.

Until now, khipu (also spelled quipu) were widely thought to be little more than accounting tools, with various knot combinations representing totals like beads on an abacus. Because no one has ever been able to decipher the knot patterns, many scholars have said khipu were the haphazard concoctions of individuals, and were not ”recording machines” designed to be read universally. Some scholars have even dismissed khipu as mere ”reminders” for their owners to do tasks or recite stories, like string tied around a person’s finger.

But comprehensive study by an antiquities scholar at Harvard University suggests the patterns not only conformed to a universal standard, but represented a writing system that was the technological equivalent of systems developed by the Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Mayans and the Chinese.

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