Cords, Knots and Controversies

Cords, Knots and Controversies: The Study of the Quipu in Historical and Ethnographic Context

Carmen Loza

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Example of <i>quipu</i>

The quipu is a controversial, symbolic, and mysterious object of knowledge sustained by the old Andean cultures. Over the centuries, people codified knowledge in knotted colored cords made out of diverse kinds of animal and plant fibers. The quipu was used by the Tiwanaku and the Wari (AD600-100AD), then by the Inca (1450-1532), from whom it was passed down to some extent to the present generation. The quipu was used to register, store and handle information. According to some researchers, the quipu represented only quantitative information, while a second group think that it was a "system of writing". A third group, however, maintain the view that it was only a mnemonic system.

The aim of the project is to reconstruct the knowledge about and practices with the quipu in the historical context. It began with the identification of the collection in Berlin, which led to a reconstruction of their usage in the legal process during the colonial period. Next, the project adopted Max Uhle's approach to nineteenth-century Andean usage of the quipu, extending and elaborating his method of ethnographic analogy. Now at the final stage, the project continues with the identification of the Andean cords and quipus.