Signs of the Inka Khipu: Binary Coding in the Andean Knotted-String Records

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University of Texas Press, Aug 1, 2003 - Social Science - 202 pages
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"Urton's work is scholarly and painstakingly thorough and is a valuable contribution to our understanding of Inca inscription that makes good use of ethnographic and ethnohistorical work on the Andean region."

?The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"This is by far the most important monograph on Andean systems of information registry since the Ashers' volumes in the late 1970s. Urton provides a platform for a whole new generation of studies."

?Frank Salomon, Professor of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

In an age when computers process immense amounts of information by the manipulation of sequences of 1s and 0s, it remains a frustrating mystery how prehistoric Inka recordkeepers encoded a tremendous variety and quantity of data using only knotted and dyed strings. Yet the comparison between computers and khipu may hold an important clue to deciphering the Inka records. In this book, Gary Urton sets forth a pathbreaking theory that the manipulation of fibers in the construction of khipu created physical features that constitute binary-coded sequences which store units of information in a system of binary recordkeeping that was used throughout the Inka empire.

Urton begins his theory with the making of khipu, showing how at each step of the process binary, either/or choices were made. He then investigates the symbolic components of the binary coding system, the amount of information that could have been encoded, procedures that may have been used for reading the khipu, the nature of the khipu signs, and, finally, the nature of the khipu recording system itself?emphasizing relations of markedness and semantic coupling. This research constitutes a major step forward in building a unified theory of the khipu system of information storage and communication based on the sum total of construction features making up these extraordinary objects.

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User Review  - bfertig - LibraryThing

really interesting but the writing is kinda clunky because he writing to defend his ideas, rather than just presenting the fascinating idea that the khipu where used to communicate in a binary fashion ... Read full review


Theory and Methods in the Study of Khipu Binary
The Physical Components of Khipu Binary Coding
The Linguistic Components of Khipu Binary Coding

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About the author (2003)

Gary Urton is Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian Studies at Harvard University, as well as a MacArthur Fellow (2001–2005).

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