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No. 22: Jul-Aug 1982

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Code Of The Quipu

In a recent issue of Science, Gary Urton reviews a new book with the above title. The authors are Marcia and Robert Ascher, who have studied roughly 200 Inca quipus, demonstrating in the process that the Incas did indeed have a "written" language as well as a surprisingly sophisticated system of mathematical notation. A quipu appears to the uninitiated as a meaningless jumble of strings. To an Inca quipu reader, though, the positioning and colors of the secondary and tertiary strings appended to the primary cord all have meaning. The knots along each string also convey messages. Quipus incorporated, in a sense, three-dimensional notation, as opposed to the two-dimensional text on this page. Inca mathematical developments are inherent in quipu notation, which clearly reveals base-of10 positional notation and the use of the zero. Instead of a tangle of colored strings, the quipus actually display sophisticated concepts of number, geometrical configuration, and logic.

(Urton, Gary; "Inca Encodements," Science, 216:869, 1982.)

Reference. For more on quipus and the Inca civilization, see our Handbook: Ancient Man. Ordering information here.

From Science Frontiers #22, JUL-AUG 1982. 1982-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987