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Home Topics in Depth Science And Environment Threads That Speak: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Inca

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    Threads That Speak: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Inca

    Threads That Speak: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Inca
    Posted by Carolyn Barnwell of National Geographic in Explorers Journal on March 10, 2017

    – video –
    The Inca Empire stretched from Colombia to central Chile and ruled more than 12 million people. They built organized cities and advanced road systems, yet they had no system of hieroglyphic writing, as the Maya did. Instead, they communicated via a system of knotted textile strings known as quipus. Deciphering how to read the quipus has become one of the great mysteries of ancient Peru.

    At the site of Incahuasi in the Cañete Valley, archaeologists have found—for the first time—dozens of quipus buried alongside centuries-old produce. They appear to have been used for accounting in agricultural storage houses to record the amount of wood, beans, corn, chili peppers, and other items moving throughout the complex. Six-hundred-year-old beans are so well-preserved in this dry valley that they look like dried beans you would see in a market today. Archaeologists found beans and other produce so they knew they were excavating storerooms, and then they found knots.


    National Geographic explorer Alejandro Chu explains that this is significant for quipu scholars because new discoveries could help bring them closer to understanding what the accounting records mean. “Usually you find quipus related to offerings, or funerary bundles in tombs. They are left and totally disconnected from their real use,” Chu says. “One of the main reasons why the discovery of quipus in Incahuasi is amazing is because it’s one of the first times we’re finding them in their original context. They are in the places where they were used.




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