# Coding with knots: Inca Quipu

This week I’m teaching at IMM DÃ¼sseldorf with Julian Rohrhuber which has given me a chance to follow up a bit on Inca Quipu coding with knots, a dangling thread from the weavecoding project. Quipu are how the Incas organised their society, as they had no written texts or money – things like exchanges (for example from their extensive store houses) were recorded via knots. Researchers have been able to decode the basic numeric system they used, but 20% of the quipu seem to follow a different set of rules, along with extra information encoded via thread material, twist direction, colour and other knot differences. I’ve written a python program for converting the Khipu Database Project excel charts into graphviz files for visualising:

The knots are described in ascii art, with S and Z relating to the ply and knot ‘handedness’ direction they are tied in:

``` O : a single knot O/O : two single knots tied in S direction (it's rotated 90 degrees :) (\\\\) : a long knot of value '4' tied in the Z direction /8 : end (figure of 8) knot tied S direction ```

The pendant nodes also have labels describing their ply direction and the side the attach on, so “S R” is S ply & recto attached.

The hardest part of this has been a bit of more recent media archeology to figure out the colour values, I’ve had to cross reference the original Ascher-Ascher Quipu Databooks published in 1978 which contain their own colour system which more or less maps to the NBS-ISCC Munsell colour chart originally proposed in 1898. Luckily that site provides hex colour values – hopefully they are vaguely accurate, the current lookup table is here:

``` colour_lookup = { "W": "#777777", "SR": "#BF2233", "MB" : "#673923", "GG" : "#575E4E", "KB" : "#35170C", "AB" : "#A86540", "HB" : "#5A3D30", "RL" : "#AA6651", "BG" : "#4A545C", "PG" : "#8D917A", "B" : "#7D512D", "0B" : "#64400F", "RM" : "#AB343A", "PR" : "#490005", "FR" : "#7F180D", "DB" : "#4D220E", "YB" : "#BB8B54", "MG" : "#817066", "GA" : "#503D33" } ```

## 5 thoughts on “Coding with knots: Inca Quipu”

1. Hi Dave.
Delighted to happen upon your blog. Thanks.
I was searching “asemic”, which I ran into today and was new to me.

I’ve a fascination with how to say, … “asemic”. That is I like the work being done on the “New World”/pre-1492 systems of communication not “Old WOrld” centric. Or other worlds/civilizations not Western. Or the new world of global communication through symbols/logos.

The thread of thought I’ve been exploring … garage Cinema by Marc Davis
http://cuspconvergence.wikifoundry.com/page/%22Garage+Cinema+%26+the+Future+of+Media+Technology%22+Davis

http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/pagre/iss/davis.html

http://www.ischool.berkeley.edu/research/projects/garagecinema