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Money & Language - How did an Inca write a receipt?

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allistylr
1144604.  Sat Aug 08, 2015 7:35 am Reply with quote

Money & Native Language - How did an Inca write a receipt?

The earliest examples of humans using writing as a method for storing information through signs are actually prestigiously boring. But how some of them were written is not. The majority of them are administrative notes, the Sumerian equivalent of receipts. One of the earliest recordings of writing is a receipt for the collection of 29,086 measures of barley over 37 months by a person called Kushim from the city of Uruk created somewhere between 3400 - 3000BC. Economic bureaucracy, it seems, is a timeless wonder.

Such writing, similar to that which the Sumerians used, is called partial script meaning it has a very fixed and limited use. You can use it for taxes and other monetary exchanges as well as some military records if you get pretty advanced with it but that is about as far as it goes. You cannot write poetry, you can’t write an angry letter of complaint and you can’t get an infinite number of monkeys to write the entire works of Shakespeare using partial script. It just wouldn’t work. Instead you would need full script, such as that which I am using to write in English.

Whilst most cultures eventually phased out their use of partial for full scripts, some cultures clung onto their reliable partial scripts for the entire of their history.

In pre-Colombian Andes, Incas wrote out, or perhaps more accurately produced, receipts in a highly unusual yet effective way. Rather than using paper or clay tablets like the Sumerians, the Inca people used quipu, written by tying knots on colourful cords. It has been argued that quipu is so unlike any other script that it isn’t a script at all. The Inca empire was comprised of roughly twelve million people speaking about twenty different languages. It was a highly sophisticated society which required large amounts of administration and a way of counting and recording that could be understood by the entire population.

On each of the quipu cords knots were tied in different places. Each knot represented a number using a positional base 10 representation. For example, if you wanted to record the number 867, then seven touching knots would be placed near the free end of the string, then there would be a space, then six knots for the tens, another space and then eight knots for the hundreds. Using this system, coupled with using different colours on the cords, the Incas could store massive amounts of mathematical data. Some quipus contain hundreds of knots and thousands of cords, detailing everything from tax collection to property ownership. Without this form of recording and receipt writing, it is certain that the Inca Empire would not have been as successful as it was. Even when the Spanish eventually showed up, they kept using the quipus, only transitioning to Latin script when they realised that native quipu experts were ripping their invaders off during monetary exchanges.

Very few quipus survive and with a lack of viable ‘Rosetta Stone’ there is still a lot that we don’t know about what is written on them.


Sources
M Ascher, Mathematical ideas of the Incas, in Native American mathematics (Austin, TX, 1986), 261-289.
M Ascher, The logical-numerical system of Inca quipus, Ann. Hist. Comput. 5 (3) (1983), 268-278.
Harari Y. N. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (London, 2011)
G Urton, The social life of numbers : A Quechua ontology of numbers and philosophy of arithmetic
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quipu
http://www.ancientscripts.com/quipu.html
http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/HistTopics/Inca_mathematics.html
http://khipukamayuq.fas.harvard.edu

 
Jenny
1144642.  Sat Aug 08, 2015 4:22 pm Reply with quote

Welcome to the forums, allistylr :-)

That was interesting - what we need to do now is find an N connection for the next series.

 
Posital
1144659.  Sun Aug 09, 2015 2:43 am Reply with quote

Nots?

 
crissdee
1144660.  Sun Aug 09, 2015 2:55 am Reply with quote

Notation?

 
'yorz
1144661.  Sun Aug 09, 2015 3:07 am Reply with quote

Numbers?

allistylr wrote:
G Urton, The social life of numbers : A Quechua ontology of numbers and philosophy of arithmetic

 
14-11-2014
1144662.  Sun Aug 09, 2015 3:13 am Reply with quote

Quote:
Money & Native Language - How did an Inca write a receipt?

M Ascher, Mathematical ideas of the Incas, in Native American mathematics (Austin, TX, 1986), 261-289.

M Ascher, The logical-numerical system of Inca quipus

G Urton, The social life of numbers : A Quechua ontology of numbers

And there are two Qs.

 
suze
1144747.  Sun Aug 09, 2015 5:13 pm Reply with quote

One of those references is to work by Professor Gary Urton, who is Professor of Pre-Columbian Studies at Harvard. Professor Urton believes that the Inca invented post codes, asserting that each village had a unique three digit code which could be represented on a quipu.

A more startling hypothesis has been presented by Dr Laura Laurencich-Minelli of the University of Bologna. She asserts that there were also coded conventions to represent words, meaning that one could in fact write Shakespeare on quipu using something analogous to telegraph code.

Dr Laurencich-Minelli's main evidence for this theory is (what is claimed as being) a four hundred year old manuscript written by Jesuits in Peru, and held in private hands in Italy ever since. Very few have been allowed to see this document, and Professor Urton has made it plain - albeit in more diplomatic language - that he doesn't believe it to be as represented.

Both have written about the subject at length, but there's a reasonable summary here.

 

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