Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

Ply, markedness and redundancy: new evidence for how Andean khipus encoded information

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle


Open Access permissions



School/Research organisations


Khipus are knotted-cord devices once used in the Andes for communication and recording information. Although numbers can be read on many khipus, it is unknown how other forms of data may have been recorded on the strings. Scholars currently debate whether elements of cord construction, such as the direction of ply, signified meaning on khipus and, if so, how. Testimony from an Aymara-speaking khipu maker, collected in 1895 by Max Uhle and recovered from Uhle's unpublished field notes, combined with the analysis of his actual khipu provides the first direct evidence that ply was a signifying element in khipus. Moreover, the evidence suggests that ply signified through a principle of markedness in which S ply corresponded to the unmarked (more valued) category while Z ply corresponded to the marked (less valued) category.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643-648
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number3
Early online date5 Aug 2014
StatePublished - Sep 2014

    Research areas

  • Andes, Writing systems, Khipus, Ethnohistory

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

  1. The Chankas and the Priest: A Tale of Murder and Exile in Highland Peru

    Hyland, S. P. 25 May 2016 State College, PA USA: Pennsylvania State University Press. 224 p.

    Research output: ResearchBook

  2. Knot direction in a khipu/alphabetic text from the Central Andes

    Hyland, S. P., Ware, G. & Clark, M. 1 Jun 2014 In : Latin American Antiquity: A Journal for the Society of American Archaeology. 25, 2, p. 189-197 9 p.

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  3. Gods of the Andes: an early Jesuit account of Inca religion and Andean Christianity

    Hyland, S. P. (ed.) 2011 Pennsylvania State University Press. 141 p. (Latin American Originals )

    Research output: ResearchBook

Related by journal

ID: 144994719