Khipu or Quipu ~ Pre-Columbian textile

Talking Knots

I just finished the book 1491 by Charles C. Mann ~ New revelations of the Americas before Columbus. An acquaintance, also a spinner, told me about it.  For the most part I found the book interesting.

quipuWhat fascinated me was the Khipu or Quipu and the spinning aspect of it. It is a form of “writing” developed by the Pre-Columbian Inka’s of Peru consisting of a series of knots (tied in 1 of 3 ways), Z and S twist, and 24 possible colors worked into the fiber. William J Conklin, a researcher at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC, states “When I started looking at khipu…I saw this complex spinning and plying and color coding, in which every thread was in a complex way. I realized 90% of the information was put into the string before the knot was made.” This may be the only 3 dimensional “written” document. I tried to found out more about the dyeing methods of the 24 colors but my email to the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. went unanswered.

LLama, Alpaca and cotton fiber was used  for spinning, as it was locally available. It is believed the colors represented  non-numeric information while the spin and knots may have represented accounting figures (encoded with a binary system) and an inventory system.

More research is being done, with historians looking for the “Rosetta Stone” to help interpret the Quipu’s true meaning.

Since I started spinning…I am finding out the history of spinning is fascinating and is woven through all cultures.

Off to spin, garden and see what bubbles up to the surface next.

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4 Responses

  1. How interesting! Imagine the forethought needed to ‘write’ like that.

    • History is fascinating and if spinning is involved you’ll find me with my nose in the book. I loved your site. I just tried dyeing wool with Queen Anne’s Lace – not much success. I am preparing a dye bath with rhododendron leaves…we will see. Next week I am writing about low-bush blueberries. We don’t have huckleberries around here, they looked tasty.

  2. […] did some more digging and found information on the colors that makes up  Khipu or Quipu ~ Pre-Columbian textile. A Peruvian, Inca method of keeping inventory and history pre-written language. I was under the […]

  3. […] Khipu or Quipu ~ Pre-Columbian textile August 2009 3 comments 3 […]

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