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Text Recorded Through Textile…

Inca was the largest civilisation of the 15th Century… it was basically a mixture of technology and aristocracy. The Peruvian city of Machu Picchu still bears the imprint of technology used by the Incas. Interestingly, one thing about the Incas has been very surprising for so long… they did not know how to communicate in the fashion in the form of writings, or edicts, which are commonly known! It is believed that they could not write down the language in which they used to express themselves. However, this perception has changed recently. A college student, with the help of his teacher, has discovered a strange way of written communication of the Incas. Instead of using scripts, they used to share information by tying knots in the thread or yarn. Incas understood the meaning of information through the colour of threads, the number of knots tied on them and the distance between two knots. Experts had found threads with such knots in Machu Picchu in the past… however, no one could understand the secret information hidden inside them!

The Inca Empire was extremely linguistically diverse. Some of the most important languages were Quechua, Aymara, Puquina and Mochica, respectively mainly spoken in the Central Andes, the Altiplano or (Qullasuyu), the south Peruvian coast (Kuntisuyu), and the area of the north Peruvian coast (Chinchaysuyu) around Chan Chan (today Trujillo). Other languages included Quignam, Jaqaru, Leco, Uru-Chipaya Languages, Kunza, Humahuaca, Cacán, Mapudungun, Culle, Chachapoya, Catacao languages, Manta, and Barbacoan Languages, as well as numerous Amazonian languages on the frontier regions. The exact linguistic topography of the pre-Columbian and early colonial Andes remains incompletely understood, owing to the extinction of several languages and the loss of historical records.

Machu Picchu

In an attempt to manage this diversity, the Inca lords promoted the usage of Quechua, especially the variety of what is now Lima as the Qhapaq Runasimi (Great Language of the People), or the official language. Defined by mutual intelligibility, Quechua is actually a family of languages rather than one single language, parallel to the Romance or Slavic Languages in Europe. There are several common misconceptions about the history of Quechua, as it is frequently identified as the Inca Language. The fact is that Quechua did not originate with the Incas, as it had been an official language in multiple areas before the Inca expansions, and was diverse before the rise of the Incas. Furthermore, it was not the native or original language of the Incas. The Incas were not known to develop a written form of language. They visually recorded narratives through paintings on vases and cups (qirus). The Incas also kept records by using Quipus or Khipus, coloured threads with knots.

The Incas had set up the largest Empire in America in the 15th Century, spreading over an area of 5,000km from Ecuador to Chile. They had also built the city of Machu Picchu at the top of the Andes Mountains in Peru, above the Urubamba River Valley. This Incan citadel is renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar, intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments and panoramic views. Still, there is an Inca grass rope bridge across the Urubamba River in the Pongo de Mainique, as it used to provide a secret entrance for the Inca Army. Another Inca bridge was built to the west of Machu Picchu. This tree-trunk bridge is situated at a location where a gap occurs in the cliff that measures 6mt or 20ft. These bridges showcase the technological advancement of the Inca Civilisation.


The biggest drawback people face while trying to learn about the Inca Civilisation is that absence of written documents that are seen conventionally. The great advantage of knowing about other major civilisations is that they had various information written in their own scripts. It became difficult for the experts to know much about the Incas in the absence of written documents. Now, the people have well-realised that the Incas recorded all the information in those coloured threads with knots, which were called Quipu or Khipu.

A 15th Century Khipu

Together with the help of his mentor Professor Gary Urton, a scholar of Pre-Columbian studies, Manny Medrano, has interpreted a set of six Khipus, or knotted cords used for record keeping in the Inca Empire. A turning point came when Professor Urton began looking into a set of six Khipus from the 17th Century Santa River Valley region of Northwest Peru. Later, Urton spotted a Spanish census document from the same region and time period in a book. “A lot of the numbers that were recorded in that census record matched those six Khipus exactly,” stressed Professor Urton.

Manny Medrano (R) and his Professor Gary Urton

Experts believe that a closer look at the Khipus will help them reveal more information about the Inca Civilisation, and various aspects of their lives. The Inca Civilisation has always amazed the global community. The city of Machu Picchu at the top of the Andes Mountains is a wonder. Most archaeologists are of the opinion that Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for the Inca Emperor Pachacuti (1438-1472). The Incas had built the estate around 1450, but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish conquest. Researchers found that most of its inhabitants had died from smallpox introduced by travellers before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the region. At that time, the infectious disease, caused by one of two virus variants: Variola Major and Variola Minorthe, had taken the form of epidemic.

Inca Empire

Machu Picchu is located on a 2,430mt (7,970ft) mountain ridge. Later, the researchers discovered another city built by the Incas even before Machu Picchu. That city was built at an altitude of 13,000ft on the Andes Mountains. Historians wonder how the Incas used to live at such a high altitude! Perhaps, the pieces of information stored in the Khipus would resolve the mystery in the coming years.

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