Those Ancient Incan Knots? Tax Accounting, Researchers Suggest

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Quipus are the mysterious bundles of colored and knotted threads that served as the Inca empire's means of recording information. The code of the quipus has long since been forgotten, and the only major advance in understanding them was the insight, made in 1923, that the knots were used to represent numbers.

The quantity and positioning of the knots, at least in certain quipus, is agreed to represent a decimal system.

A new and possibly significant advance in deciphering the quipu system may now have been gained by two Harvard researchers, Gary Urton and Carrie J. Brezine. They believe they may have decoded the first word - a place name - to be found in a quipu (pronounced KWEE-poo), and have also identified what some of the many numbers in the quipu records may be referring to.

Though a single word would be just the first step in a very long road, it would open the possibility of discovering a whole new level of meaning in the quipus.

It could also resolve a longstanding controversy by establishing that quipus included a writing system and were not just personal mnemonic devices understood only by the person who made them, as some scholars have maintained.

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