The quipus mathematicians, the best kept secret of the inca civilization

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Pedro Gargantilla Updated: Save Send news by mail electrónicoTu name *

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The inca empire was founded around the year 1.200 d.C. and Manco Capac was its first ruler. Was in full swing when they arrived the Spanish conquistadors, led by Francisco Pizarro.

In its time of greatest splendour occupied a geographical area of about two million square kilometers that included the current Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador.

we Know that it was a civilization ágrafa, that is to say, not developed any system of writing as we know it, which has made it difficult to be able to come to some intricacies of its culture and organization and that still there are many issues to be resolved. Between them to what they used quipus.

Simple strings, in aparienciaWikipedia

Now preserved in around a thousand copies of quipus throughout the world. This word means “knot” in quechua and is the name used to refer to the knots that wove the inca knotted cords together.

the making of The quipus was not within the reach of the entire population, as only they could perform the quipucamayoc, the elite who ran the inca empire, in other words, the accountants.

We have found a huge variety of quipus but all with the same structure: a string to which are tied the other strings, either of cotton or wool, at the base of llama or alpaca.

The main cord received the appellation of rope mother or cross and she hung other ropes of colors and with knots of different shapes and sizes. All of this seemed to be developed in a careful “anarchism”.

The key was in knots

it Is said that the writing was born in Mesopotamia as a way to satisfy the need of accounting, it could list goods, animals, which was stored and transported. The fictional narrative would come a long time after.

some time Ago a team of researchers from the University of Harvard (united States) discovered that the quipus were documents that were used to share accounting information. It was a code of communication that allowed to record and transmit numerical data related to the finances, the figures in the military or the census.

The knots of the quipus kept information truly complex, that depended not only on the position occupied, also in the direction of the twist or knot type. All this suggests to some scholars that the quipu was, in a certain way, a system of writing.

Yupana, the abacus of the incas

When it needed to perform more complicated mathematical calculations the incas used the yupana, a sort of abacus. Its name derives etymologically from yupai, which in quechua means tell.

This instrument was composed, basically, by a wooden frame with a table of five rows –two, three and five in the cells in the middle, more holes are individual larger top and bottom and four – columns, which corresponded to the units, tens, hundreds, and units of thousands.

it Seems to be, that the officials used small stones and grains of corn that were displaced by the quadrants. If they were black they were used to tell what was due, whereas if they were white they recorded what had been paid.

M. Jara

Pedro Gargantilla is a internist in the Hospital of El Escorial (Madrid), and author of several popular books