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Different Forms of Writing - The Inca Quipu

Seeing that one could earn devcoins by writting made me think of all the different languages that this could open peoples eyes to, and how benificial the “Translation Bounties” could be for some of the more obscure written languages, especially as aquiring bitcoins could be beyond the reach of their monetary budget and mining capabilities, but devcoins seems to even this out as what is worth not much to some rich folk in the western world is more than a months wages in the rest of the world.

This got me thinking that there needs to be a greater spread and awarness to the rest of the world about alternate cryptocurrencies, otherwise the wealth of the world will still be just as divided as it is today. But what does one have to gain by sharing the knowledge of how to earn money in the digital age besides a feeling of self satisfaction? The more I write and share my thoughts, the more feedback and new information I actually receive as more people are encouraged to express their knowledge, thoughts and feelings. I truely enjoy learning, especially when it teaches me something completely new and that is often obtained from people from other cultures, language barriers can be a real problem for the sharing of knowledge, but is something that can be overcome but translations must not be left to late as I will demonstrate in this article.

A case example that I have which fits nicely into this model is actually something I studied at university for my dissertation, it is the Inca Quipu.

So who were the Incas?

The Incas were the rulers of the north western part of South America (around Peru) from 1437-1537 until the Spanish arrived and took over the area. The Incas spoke Quechua and were considered by the Spanish as being savages and lower forms of humans by not believing in the Christian God and not having a written language like the bible was written in. There is a famous tale of when the Spanish leader arrived and met with the Inca leader and the Spanish gave the Incan a bible telling him it was a “Holy book” and very special, the Inca leader merely put the book to his ear, proclaimed it said nothing to him and threw it on the ground! This clearly upset the Spanish and they proceeded to rampage through the Inca land taking all they wanted and destorying the Inca Empire. The Spanish proclaimed the Incas had no written form of language and were backwards and hence justified their actions in converting the country to the Spanish way of thinking as the Spanish were helping them. But were the Spanish just unable to accept that the written language does not have to be in the form we all currently see and expect today of text letters on a piece of paper (or computer screen)?

So what is an Inca Quipu?

Here is a picture of an Inca Quipu farm4.staticflickr.com_3593_3620111608_f6d992ae87.jpg

From the image we can see that this is clearly NOT a manuscript that we are all used to, it is a collection of strings on one main string with a series of knots on each of the strings. Upon close inspection it has been noticed that there are variations that have meaning in the type of knot tied, the colour of the string, the way in which the string is twisted together and the total number of strings on the collection.

In 1978 Marcia and Robert Ascher a couple in the US did many years researching and recording all these variations on all the quipu that were held in museums etc and took a very mathematical approach to trying to decipher the meaning behind the quipu. They seem to conclude from thier many years of research that the Quipu was an accounting type of system to which they could identify knots as being numerical values and the string twine and colour representing a comodity that was being recorded. By comparing the Spanish records of gold, grains, wood etc taken and stored in each province and the quipus from the corresponding regions they were able to make the following translations on the knots:

So case closed all quipus are just accounting methods for recording produce and taxes in the Incan empire? Well not quite, as it was well doccumented that the Incas did not like being ruled by the Spanish and that they frequently kept secrets from them so as to protect their culture. Also there were early day anthropologisits on the Spanish boats who were not interested in looting and taking from the countries they conquered, but rather doccument and try to understand differences in the cultures before they were lost in the conquering civilisations dominance and indoctrination. These early day anthropologists talked and drew pictures of Incas reading and telling stories from some special “Royal Quipus” (the ones that the Incas kept secret from the Spanish in general) Quipus that held more information than just simple accounts, quipus that the reader by knowing how to read the knots on the strings would be able to tell full stories with facts, figures, names, storylines, backstories etc everything we can express in our written language was the same in theirs.

The couple from the 1970's interestingly concluded as well that the scope for variations in the quipu construction would allow them just as much possibility for written language as the 26 letters of our alphabet does, actually it allows for more!! Also they had to admit that not all Quipus examined conformed to their mathematical models and translation interpretations, were these the royal Quipus that need a different translation??

Unfortuneantly here is where the answers seem to stop, as there is only so much “fact” that one can deduce from artifacts without pushing into the relms of speculation, and as there is no transaltion or people who can read the royal quipus left alive we will never truely know what information was held on these pieces of strings.

I urge you all to spread the word on crypto-currencies and encourage people to write translations and record meanings so we can not make the same mistake the Spanish and Incas made all those years ago and now part of the Inca culture is forever lost. One of the greatest things we as humans have manage to achieve is the sharing of knowledge acress many generations, it is a shame when such shared knowledge is lost. By sharing your knowledge you will find others will share more knowledge with you, so be sure to tell everyone you know about devcoins :)


History | Writing | Archaeology


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