Good Trip Preview: Khipu

Jun 21, 2017 | By: Sam Huff

It’s commonly accepted that the Inca had no known form of written communication, but what if this notion is total bullshit?  It’s now becoming evident the Inca not only had a very detailed way of recording information, but the khipu system they developed was based on binary code - the same system computers use today to condense complex information into a simpler form.  It was there, it's just that the Spanish weren’t savvy enough to understand it. But through recent developments, anthropologists are now begining to understand how this three dimensional coding device was used extensively by communities throughout the Inca empire.  
Just imagine - a couple hundred conquistadors step off a boat into Inca territory in 1532 and don’t find a single engraved stone or piece of inked-stained parchment paper with written language.  What they do find is a civilization that looks much different from their own, and because they deem the Inca as “less evolved", they discount any cultural elements they don’t understand.  And destroy a proto-binary system of written information in the process.
This ancient system of knotted spun fibers, a system that was utilized for everything from tracking land ownership and regional history to communities stockpiles and mythology, was eventually banned by the Spanish colonizers and almost completely lost to history. In fact, only 600 known Khipus exist today, and no one fully understands the intricacies of how information was coded into the series of either-or choices available to the khipu keeper. Color combinations, the direction the fibers were spun, as well as knot type and location were all components used to simplify dense information. Think of it as a tactile version of the digital 1s and 0s computers utilize for, well, everything.
We live in an era when now, more than ever, we need to realize that good ideas come from all places and spaces, even from the past or cultures we don’t fully understand. But the idea of progress is all-too-often associated with "new", instead of “good". It’s concepts like these, and the greater impact they have on regional and global culture, that we’re exploring in our new publication, Good Trip. Our first issue focusing on Peru drops later this summer.
Stay tuned.
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