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

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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 Testimony from an Aymara-speaking khipu maker, collected in 1895 by Max Uhle and recovered from Uhle's unpublished field notes, combined with the analysis of his actual khipu provides the first direct evidence that ply was a signifying element in khipus.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
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2014

    Research areas

  • Andes, Writing systems, Khipus, Ethnohistory

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