Accountancy ties archaeologists in knots

Archaeologists believe that mysterious knotted strings used by the Incas may
have been ledgers used by accountants to keep track of the ancient
civilisation’s South American empire.

Known as khipu, the strange strings have long confounded academics, who until
now have been unable to decipher the unusual codes of the khipu, which can
consist of thousands of complex knotted patterns.

Harvard University archaeologists Gary Urton and Carrie Brezine, however, say
they have finally made a breakthrough in decoding the khipu, which they believe
have something to do with Inca accounting.

The Independent reports that Urton and Brezine used a computer
database of nearly 350 khipu to analyse the patterns in the thousands of strings
of various lengths and colours. The research revealed that the strings appeared
to have contained numerical data which was used by Inca officials to make

‘This communication was used to record the information deemed most important
to the state, which often included accounting and other data related to
censuses, finance and the military,’ Urton told The Independent.

At its height, the Inca empire extended almost the full length of the Andes
from Colombia in the north to Chile in the south.

Inca accountants seem to have used khipu to calculate tributes made by local

The tributes were levied in the form of a labour tax with each taxpayer
working for a specified number of days on a state project.

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