Skip to comments.Scientists untangle Inca number-strings (Kept Track of Tax Payments)
Posted on 08/14/2005 10:47:40 PM PDT by nickcarraway
Knotted threads carry signs of ancient accountancy.
Scientists have picked apart some 500-year-old calculations from the Inca empire.
The team deciphered the maths from a series of 'khipus': elaborate structures of coloured, knotted strings. Researchers have long known that the Inca, who lived along the west coast of South America from AD 1400-1532, used such cords to record numbers. But this is the first mathematical relationship found between khipu. And that may help to work out what kind of information they stored.
Khipus encode numbers as knots in strings hanging from a cord. The closer a knot is to the cord, the higher its value, just as the number 1 can denote 1, 10, or 100 depending on its position.
Numerical value also depends on a knot's shape. Single overhand knots encode tens, hundreds or thousands. Single knots represent ones, and long knots with between 2 and 9 turns encode the numbers 2 to 9.
"The challenging thing is that, while we can read these numerical values that are knotted onto the strings, we don't know what they refer to," says Gary Urton, an anthropologist from Harvard University and lead author of the study, published this week in Science1.
Urton and his colleague Carrie Brezine used twenty-first century computer power to seek numerical relationships between different clumps of string.
They analysed a group of 21 khipus found all together in 1956, near an Inca palace at the archaeological site of Paruchuco, in the Peruvian capital Lima. These are the only khipus found so close to each other, Urton says, making it more likely that at least some of them served similar purposes.
Sure enough, seven of the khipu were numerically related. The summed values of all strings of the same colour of one khipu, for example, matched the sums on the corresponding strings of another khipu. The sums of that khipu, in turn, could be found on the corresponding strings of a third khipu.
The numbers didn't add up perfectly, but Urton thinks this may be because the Inca rounded numbers up or down, or took averages of their results.
Death or taxes?
Urton speculates that these sums might record tax payments. Incans paid their taxes by working a certain number of days per year on state projects. The knotted strings could represent such days, and the sums could represent totals for all work in a certain area, Urton says.
Bill Conklin, a textile archaeologist at the Textile Museum in Washington DC says the study is "terrific, careful and great". But he thinks the numbers are probably records of animal sacrifices. "Sacrifices were very important to the Incas," he says. "If they didn't make the proper sacrifices, it wouldn't rain."
"That could be," says Urton, adding that only further studies will solve the matter. The team has created a database of the numbers, colours and other features of 290 khipus - about half of the 600 found so far. They hope to mine this in search of further patterns.
References Urton G. & Brezine C. J. Science, 309. 1065 - 1067 (2005). | Article |
If they had taxes, I am awaiting the discovery of texts by the Incan Walter Williams, explaining why they should do away with taxes.
Tax records fashioned like a scourge...how fitting.
So if they "slipped a knot" is that evidence of early tax cheats?
If they didn't pay they could whip 'em with it.
That is what I call a penalty!
Although, there may have been some early S&M types who deliberatly withheld their taxes...
What would be the Inca equivalent of "Junior Senator from Massachusetts"?
That is gut-bustingly hillarious!
Bawney is an easy target.
From that, taxes owed cold be calculated
Looks like a flat tax to me.
And I thought Red Tape was bad.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on, off, or alter the "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list --
Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
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We may just own literacy to the tax man. How depressing.
I guess that explains their extinction.
And we owe geometry to the need to redraw property lines after floods receded, and to figure out land area in order to properly tax agricultural production (that is, to tax the farmer). Here's the three FR topics previously added:
Did ancient Inca communicate through knots?
Associated Press | August 11, 2005 | August 11, 2005
Posted on 08/11/2005 1:18:17 PM PDT by wallcrawlr
Professor Works To Unravel Mysteries Of Khipu: Colored,
Knotted Strings Used By The Ancient Incas
Science Daily | 1-5-2004 | University At Buffalo
Posted on 01/05/2004 9:13:02 AM PST by blam
The Monolith of Pokotia
(Sumerian Language etched on Ancient Mesopotamian Items)!
Bernardo Biadós Yacovazzo & Freddy Arce
FR Post 10-19-2002 | Bernardo Biadós Yacovazzo & Freddy Arce
Posted on 10/19/2002 10:28:48 AM PDT by vannrox
whoops, three more:
Inca May Have Used Knot Computer Code To Bind Empire
Independent (UK) | 6-23-2003 | Steve Conner
Posted on 06/22/2003 8:08:43 PM PDT by blam
Incan Counting System Decoded?
Discovery News | 1-30-2004 | Rossella Lorenzi
Posted on 01/30/2004 8:10:33 AM PST by blam
Incan Counting System Decoded?
Discovery News | Feb 3 2004 | By Rossella Lorenzi
Posted on 02/03/2004 6:04:59 AM PST by vannrox
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