Khipu Database Project

What are Khipu Archives?

An archive is a set of records pertaining to the people of an area who had common, interrelated interests, and shared practices of accounting and record keeping.

Khipus that have a common provenience, or that are known to come from the same archaeological context, were probably produced by local khipu keepers or by Inka accountants who were resident in that locale. In either case, khipu that come from a single site or narrowly defined region can be considered potentially to bear some historical and/or substantive relationship to each other. One potential consequence of such relationships is that the khipu that constitute an archive will likely build on, complement, duplicate, and possibly even comment on each other.

At present there are only two archives of khipu known to have been found together: the set of Chachapoyas khipu from the north of Peru, and the khipu of Puruchuco, a site on the coast near Lima. Other archives are based on grouping together khipu from different collections which have the same provenance. There are three of these archives: Ica, Circum-Ica (khipu from the area immediately surrounding Ica), and Pachacmac. Though most archives are currently composed of less than 30 khipu each, there are some clear differences from one archive to another. As more data are collected, it is possible that the archive paradigm could be used to suggest provenance for khipu that have no known origin.

Garcilaso de la Vega, a 17th-century Spanish chronicler, reported the following about khipu practices:

Although the quipucamayus [khipu-makers/keepers] were as accurate and honest as we have said, their number in each village was in proportion to its population, and however small, it had at least four and so upwards to twenty or thirty. They all kept the same records, and although one accountant or scribe was all that would have been necessary to keep them, the Incas preferred to have plenty in each village and for each sort of calculation, so as to avoid faults that might occur if there were few, saying that if there were a number of them, they would either all be at fault or none of them (1966 [1609]:331).

This passage clearly implies that multiple khipu with the same information existed in one area. Relationships such as matching numerical sequences, identical color patterning, or similar structure are more likely to be found between khipu belonging to the same archive than between objects with different provenance.

Explore Further

The Chachapoyas Archive

In 1996, an important cache of mummies was discovered in a group of burial chambers in a rock overhang high above the Laguna de los Condores near Leymebamba in northern Peru. Among the mummies, textiles, pottery and other artifacts were 32 khipu.

The Puruchuco Archive

Seven of the 21 khipu found at the site of Puruchuco form an accounting hierarchy. The relationship between these khipu may be evidence of the movement of information up and down the administrative structure of the Inka Empire.

Matching Khipu

There are several pairs of khipu that have matching or very close numeric sequences. Occasionally complete khipu appear to be duplicates of each other; more frequently, a part of one khipu matches a segment of another.