The khipus of the Incas: another type of ‘writing’

Collata-coloured-khipu-cords-1024x683Peruvian twisted chords, known as ‘khipus’, have long been known as a means of keeping accounts. They are thought to have been used by the Incas and are attested as late as the 18th cent AD.

The village of San Juan de Collata on the Peruvian Andes invited Sabine Hyland, an anthropologist at the University of St. Andrews, to examine two specimens they thought had functioned as letters exchanged by local leaders in a revolt against Spanish authority.

She suggests that the knots, as well as “three-cord sequences of distinct colours, fibres and ply direction at the end of each khipu appear to represent lineage names”. She adds that “analysis of the khipus revealed they contain 95 different symbols, a quantity within the range of logosyllabic writing systems, and notably more symbols than in regional accounting khipus”. More interestingly, she claims that “the Collata khipus express syllables in a profoundly Andean fashion, using differences among the fibres of various animals, such as vicuña, alpaca and deer to indicate meaning. The reader must often feel the cords by hand to distinguish the fibre sources of these three-dimensional texts.”

(Info: The Courier)

March for Science

spellingCopying from The Guardian: “Hundreds of thousands of climate researchers, oceanographers, bird watchers and other supporters of science rallied in marches around the world on Saturday, in an attempt to bolster scientists’ increasingly precarious status with politicians.

The main March for Science event was held in Washington DC, where organizers made plans for up to 150,000 people to flock to the national mall, although somewhat fewer than that figure braved the rain to attend. Marchers held a range of signs. Some attacked Donald Trump, depicting the president as an ostrich with his head in the sand or bearing the words: “What do Trump and atoms have in common? They make up everything.”

More than 600 marches took place around the world, on every continent bar Antarctica, in events that coincided with Earth Day.”

People in favor of scientific research and evidence-based discussions also had a soft spot for spelling and grammar, as it turns out.

“Historical graffiti as sources. Methods and perspectives of a young research area”

ByronA conference on graffiti as historical sources is taking place between 20 and 22 April 2017 at the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. The conference discusses these unofficial inscriptions, methods and techniques of study as well as preservation methods.

A graffito functions as a person’s makeshift signature in a public space, carved or painted by themselves in order to commemorate their presence on the spot. The picture shows the English poet’s Byron signature, which he carved himself at a column in the Poseidon temple in Sounion, Greece. Byron visited Sounion at the beginning of the 19th cent. AD. It is more than probable that Byron would be seen nowadays as a vandal; this only shows our changing cultural attitudes towards graffiti. There are many fascinating aspects of graffiti to be studied and highlighted, which I am certain the Munich conference will address.

Learning Latin in West Philadelphia

romanesA charter school in West Philadelphia named Boys’ Latin is offering compulsory courses in Latin, says an article in the WSJ.

“The traditional arguments for studying Latin are well known. More than half of English words have Latin roots, so students who learn Latin improve their vocabularies and linguistic skills. In addition, the discipline of studying Latin—the logic, the structure, the rigor—helps train young minds to think more clearly and systematically. All these arguments Mr. Hardy [the school’s chief executive officer] accepts and occasionally invokes himself. But for him Latin is also a way of addressing the most wretched fact of today’s Philly school system: Only 8% of young black men who graduate from one of the city’s public high schools will go on to a four-year college degree.”

And more arguments are listed in favor: because Latin “immediately raises expectations all around”; “you can’t fake it”, and “satisfaction … comes from [the] achievement when these boys learn it”; “partly it’s the school’s thing”, “it builds identity and esprit de corps.”; “it’s also what helps make Boys’ Latin attractive to the Philadelphia School Partnership, an influential group of donors whose mission is to get more of the city’s kids into great schools—and put more on the path to college.”

And the results? “Boys’ Latin is not without its critics, who point to so-so scores on state tests. Mr. Hardy argues that the scores, which have been rising, are still better than the alternatives for most young men in West Philly. For him the most important measure is that his students are getting their college degrees.”

Let’s see how things will evolve in the future.

PS1. As I was browsing through blog themes WordPress offers (it’s a new blog, so I’m trying out things), I noticed that blog templates are half in English and half in Latin.

PS2. To understand the image above, click here to see an excerpt from the “Life of Brian”, a 1979 Monty Pythons’ film.

Graffiti in Mosul

2Graffiti can be a powerful means of communication. ISIS had painted multiple graffiti in one of the Iraqi cities it had occupied, Mosul. In the liberated parts of the city, people painted over the walls with ISIS graffiti, but one man further wrote his own messages. The journalist Rukmini Callimachi tells the story in a series of tweets.

“The one he chose for this wall says, “In life, be like a cube of sugar, so that when you are gone you leave a sweet taste.” Sadoun Dhanoun, 39 years old, was hired by a senior citizen group to paint over a wall that carried a verse from scripture calling for violence against the kuffar, or infidels.

ISIS uses black color, Sadoun chose red.

“Act of the scribe” workshop in Athens

workshoplogoX_mustapohjaThe workshop took place in Athens, Greece, and was aimed at discussing various aspects of scribal work and how these relate to language use and language change in Graeco-Roman Antiquity. Because a lot of information we have on scribes comes from papyrus texts, the workshop was heavily populated by Egyptologists and Coptologists! But there appears to have been some space reserved also for us epigraphists!

I found it to be a sad coincidence that as we were busy with our workshop in sunny Athens (rather with an excursion to Mycenae the day after the workshop concluded), twin attacks on two Coptic churches in Egypt claimed the lives of dozens of worshipers.. The attack prompted some articles about who are the Copts and why they were being targeted.

A photo of the happy participants, taken at the courtyard of the Finnish Institute in Athens!AoS