String theory
August 11, 2003 5:30 PM   Subscribe

String and Knot, Theory of Inca Writing An article today in the NY Times (you know the drill, I think it's metafi/metafi, no?) regarding a new theory to do with the decoding of the "cryptic knotted strings known as khipu".
If khipu is indeed the medium of a writing system, Dr. Gary Urton of Harvard says, this is entirely different from any of the known ancient scripts, beginning with the cuneiform of Mesopotamia more than 5,000 years ago. The khipu did not record information in graphic signs for words, but rather a kind of three-dimensional binary code similar to the language of today's computers. Dr. Urton, an anthropologist and a MacArthur fellow, suggests that the Inca manipulated strings and knots to convey certain meanings. By an accumulation of binary choices, khipu makers encoded and stored information in a shared system of record keeping that could be read throughout the Inca domain.
More information about Urton's book, which is to be published this month, here; more information about the Khipu themselves and further linkage here (note: this link is to an angelfire page, popups and limited bandwidth are to be expected). From Cornell, detailed descriptions of 200 Khipu, with photographs.
posted by jokeefe (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Should note that the Cornell site is mostly composed of pdfs, sorry.
posted by jokeefe at 5:36 PM on August 11, 2003

Try here for a couple of photographs from the Cornell site.
posted by jokeefe at 5:40 PM on August 11, 2003

The Incas had a system to deal with double posting.
posted by jpburns at 5:51 PM on August 11, 2003

Son of a bitch. My apologies. The article was dated August 11th, and the book is due this month, so I thought I was safe. Mea culpa.
posted by jokeefe at 6:22 PM on August 11, 2003

*furiously ties knots in string to finish comment before thread is deleted*
posted by quonsar at 7:01 PM on August 11, 2003

We used to do this at home, except we used our hair.
posted by trondant at 7:06 PM on August 11, 2003

Not a DP. Take it to MeTa to debate -- entirely new links, updates to an ongoing story. Interesting read, thanks.
posted by stbalbach at 7:30 PM on August 11, 2003

What stbalbach said. Thanks for the links, jokeefe.
posted by homunculus at 8:59 PM on August 11, 2003

*sobs with gratitude*

Seriously, many thanks, stbalbach and homunculus.
posted by jokeefe at 9:39 PM on August 11, 2003

Not entirely new links; that's my point. I'm not making it to make jokeefe sob (although that is fun), it's because I recognized the material and a search on "Inca" would have found it. The main new link is a NYTimes article, after they finally stumbled over it.

Geez! I swear the anti-anti-double post folks are like Hitler.

(that's a joke, by the way)
posted by jpburns at 4:47 AM on August 12, 2003

Sheesh, I never thought this would end in a Godwin.

jpburns, I'm afraid I didn't really cry; but as my father used to say (he was very English): "get knotted".

Heh. Get it?

(just goofing around...)
posted by jokeefe at 11:38 AM on August 12, 2003

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