Peruvian 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)