Quipu is a collection of strings – typically made of cotton and camelid (alpaca or llama hair) – with each string containing multiple knots of different colors and sizes and one of their ends tied to a principle string.
The Incas used quipu as the recording device and stored their business data and history in this form. The characteristics of knots, such as the color and distance between the knots, were used to hold both numeric and non-numeric data.
The Incas considered the task of creating, deciphering, and maintaining quipus a specialized skill, and they allowed only a class of people known as Quipucamayocs to perform this task. The members of the ruling class were also taught to read quipus.
When the Spanish wanted to learn the secret of quipus, the Quipucamayocs refused to divulge them. When the Spanish tortured them to extract the secrets to find gold, they preferred death over divulging their secrets. So, the knowledge to decipher quipus was lost forever.
There are about seven hundred quipus now available in museums and academic institutions. The image shows one of them on display at Museo Larco in Lima, Peru. Here is another quipu on display at the same museum.
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