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From Knots to Narratives: Reconstructing the Art of Historical Record Keeping in the Andes from Spanish Transcriptions of Inka Khipus

Gary Urton
Ethnohistory
Vol. 45, No. 3 (Summer, 1998), pp. 409-438
Published by: Duke University Press
DOI: 10.2307/483319
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/483319
Page Count: 30
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From Knots to Narratives: Reconstructing the Art of Historical Record Keeping in the Andes from Spanish Transcriptions of Inka Khipus
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Abstract

Based on a close examination of Spanish translations and transcriptions of "readings" of Inka khipus (knotted-string recording devices) by native "knot-keepers/makers" during the sixteenth century, I make suggestions about the types of information that appear to have been recorded. While memory played an important role in the construction of full narrative renderings of the khipus, the transcriptions nonetheless suggest that the khipu signifiers contained a high level of syntactic and semantic information. It is argued, therefore, that the khipu recording system may have more closely approximated a form of writing than has heretofore been supposed.

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