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The Khipu

Khipus are constructions of cords—a main cord strung with pendant cords strung with subsidiary cords, which themselves may have subsidiary cords—whose structures, colors, patterns, and knots encode information. Spanish chroniclers of the sixteenth century wrote that khipus recorded several forms of content at multiple scales, including quantitative and possibly narrative information.

Almost every feature of a khipu is meaningful. The types, position, and twist of knots; the final twist, thickness, color, and fiber content (cotton, camelid fiber, deer, maguey, etc.) of cords; and the attachments of cords to each other provided information to the khipukamayuq, or khipu specialist.

Cord attachment, cord, and knot twist

Khipu structure

Natural colored camelid fiber

Natural colored cotton

Andean dyes