quipu in peru

Just as some ancient cultures had their languages and registration systems, the Incas were no exception. The Ancient Inca Empire did not have a written system or written language that could give us an idea about their lives. We can only rely on those stories and customs that were passed orally. Even though much of the history of the Incas was not recorded in writing, some interesting findings can be rescued. The Empire adopted a unique and rather ingenious system of recording information. We are talking about the Quipu, a quite creative and original counting system. And together with the Machu Travel Peru team, we want to tell you more about this unique registration system. For this, we have prepared an article where we delve into this interesting topic.

All you need to know about the Quipu and its function


About the quipu

The Quipu was a record of knots, a method of keeping records of various things. It was used by the Incas, although they adopted it from other ancient Andean cultures. It had the main function of keeping records as well as communicating information. The Quipu was the device that managed to shine in the absence of alphabetical and systematic writing. It could be thought of as a forerunner of laptops, as this simple device was very easy to carry. And not only that, but it also had a high degree of precision and flexibility. They are undoubtedly one of the archaeological treasures in Peru that leave us enchanted with the mysteries that surround them.

what is the quipu

It was used in a wide variety of colors, ropes, and knots. The knots were tied in different ways and at different heights to differentiate what was recorded. The Quipu could record dates, statistics, stories, and surprisingly it was capable of recording stories. These were represented abstractly, denoting those key episodes of traditional folk tales and poetry. Quipu was a clear replacement for the written language. Some scholars believe that the information was recorded in the same way as a cuneiform tablet or symbols painted on papyri. Therefore, instead of using painted or printed symbols, the Incas transmitted their ideas through different patterns of knots of different colors. If you are looking to get to know tourism in Peru in-depth, we advise you to look at the different museums and their examples of Quipus.


history of the quipu

According to the Spanish records, the Quipus were kept and maintained by specialists. These were called Quipucamayocs or Khipukamayuq. Some shamans trained to understand the complexities of the system were also lucky to have them. Because of this, we know that it was not a technology shared by everyone within the Inca community. The famous 16th century Inca Garcilaso de la Vega historian mentions that these were carried by relay riders throughout the Empire. And these riders had the name of Chasquis. They carried the encoded information through the long Inca trail system. It was in this way that the different Inca rulers were kept up to date with the news related to the Empire. That is how they were found throughout different ruins in Peru.

The Spanish destroyed thousands of Quipus, as they did with other objects of Inca importance. Only about 600 of these are believed to remain in modern times, many of them found in excavations. Some of them were even found in local Andean communities. All of these are stored in local and international museums.


functions and meanings of quipu

Quipu comes from a word in the Quechua language, Khipu, which is also spelled as Quipo. This word translated into Spanish can mean “knot”. Indeed, the process of deciphering these systems is still ongoing. But scholars assume that the information is stored in the color of the cord, the length of the cord, the type of knot, the location of the knot, and the twisting direction of the knot. Quipu laces are often braided in color matching and sometimes have individual cotton or wool yarns distinctively dyed. All the cords are mainly connected by a single horizontal thread. But some elaborate examples with multiple subsidiary cords have been found. These start from the horizontal base in vertical or oblique directions.

Based on historical reports, the Quipus were used for the administrative monitoring of tributes. As well as for the records of the production levels of farmers and artisans of the Inca Empire. Although it is also believed that some of these may have represented maps of the Inca road network. They may even have functioned as mnemonic devices to help oral historians remember ancient legends. Some suppose that it could also have been a way to remember the family trees that were so important in Inca society. These were used by the communities and cultures that inhabited the Peruvian Andes. Even many of these predated the Inca Empire, so the Incas were the ones who adopted this method.


new findings quipu

During the last years, the Quipu gained a new light with discoveries. Scholars have challenged the traditional way of looking at this ancient recording device. It is believed that it was much more than just a memory aid device. It is even suggested that the Quipu was related to different narrative registers. Therefore, Quipu could also have been a viable alternative to written language. But it is believed that this evolution of the Quipu took place during the last years of the Inca Empire. If you plan to visit Machu Picchu, take a tour of the Machu Picchu site museum. There you can find some examples of these registration systems.


As you will see, the Quipus are still one of those fascinating mysteries of the ancient Inca Empire. If you want to know more about the captivating examples of Quipus, you can visit the many museums in Peru. We hope together with the experts from Machu Travel Peru to have been helpful. If you want to know more about our different tours in Peru and visits to museums, you can consult with our qualified advisors. They will be happy to help you fulfill the trip of your dreams. 

Peru has so much to offer, it can be hard to know where to start. With many years of experience in the tourism sector, Machu Travel Peru is happy to help with anything regarding your trip to Machu Picchu and any tours around it. Make your Machu Picchu experience an unforgettable one!