Khipu Database Project

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.

Laguna de los Condores. Photo by Gary Urton.

Laguna de los Condores is remotely situated a long day's horseback trek from Leymebamba. The mummies were found in chullpas (above-ground burial chambers) in the cliff above the lake.

After the initial discovery, the tombs were looted in the hope of finding precious items. All the mummies and artifacts were removed from the caves; many mummy bundles were slashed with machetes. Because of this, the original correspondence of mummy bundles, khipu and other artifacts with particular chullpas has been forever lost. In 1997 the Bioanthropology Foundation of Peru-Centro Mallqui under the direction of Dr. Sonia Guillén and Adriana von Hagen and the community of Leymebamba staged a rescue effort and moved all of the items from the lakeside to the town. They are now housed safely in the Museo Leymebamba.

The cache of khipu from this find is one of the most important collections of khipu extant. Although it is impossible to correlate a particular khipu with a particular mummy, for the first time researchers have access to a group of khipu whose archeological context is well known. Within the collection are two groups of khipu which were found bundled or tied together. In addition, recent analysis with the Khipu Database has found a set of three unattached khipu which are closely related and have matching number sequences. The Chachapoyas collection of khipu inspires new questions about the use of multiple khipu to record the same records, and the reasons for attaching certain khipu to each other. In time, with careful study, this important khipu archive may reveal answers to questions concerning khipu record keeping techniques and practices.

Untying bundled khipu. Photo by Adriana von Hagen.