Did The Inca Use The Quipu To Collect Taxes?

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Conny Waters - AncientPages.com - The purpose of the Quipu has long puzzled scientists.

The vast Inca Empire had a sophisticated and organized government, but they had no written language. Instead, they came up with a curious invention, a form of non-verbal communication written in an encoded language similar to the binary code used by modern computers. This Inca system is today known as the Quipu.

Did The Inca Use Quipu To Collect Taxes?

Ruins at Inkawasi site in Peru where 29 Quipus have been discovered. Credit: G. Urton

As mentioned earlier on Ancient Pages, the quipu is one of the most mysterious phenomena that existed in odd number of dimensions.   A quipu (or 'khipu' - (in Quechua 'knot') was a series of strings with knots. The number of knots, the size of the knots, and the distance between knots conveyed meaning.

Many theories have been proposed attempting to explain how and why the Inca created such a sophisticated communication system.

Based on what is known so far, there were different kinds of Quipus and they served different purposes.

Two 18th century ‘Collata Quipu’ artifacts preserved in a wooden box by elders of the region located in San Juan de Collata, in the province of Huarochiri, Peru may offer clues to understanding how some quipus kept and relayed information.

The longest known quipu. Photo credit: P. Dauelsberg

The longest known quipu. Photo credit: P. Dauelsberg

Deciphering a Quipu is an intellectual challenge. According to Manny Medrano, at Harvard who has compiled a database of hundreds of quipus from museums around the world and studied some 600 Quipus across North America and Europe, not just their color, but the way the cords are spun to the left or to the right, and other such features.

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Archaeologist Alejandro Chu who has excavated in Peru suggest the Inca used Quipus to collect taxes. Chu and his team have discovered 29 Quipus at the Inkawasi site that was once an imposing military and administrative site unlike any other known from the Inca world.

Did The Inca Use Quipu To Collect Taxes?

Experts suggest Quipus were used to collect taxes. Credit: G.Urton

Quipu researcher Gary Urton became interested in this find an examined the objects. Based on his study, he suggests the Inca knotted-string recording devices contain a formulaic arrangement of numerical values not encountered on Quipus from elsewhere in Tawantinsuyu (the Inka Empire). In their science paper, researchers explain “the formula includes first, a large number, hypothesized to record the sum total of produce included in a deposit, followed by a “fixed number,” and then one or more additional numbers.

The fixed number plus the additional number(s) sum to the original large number. It is hypothesized that the fixed number represents an amount deducted from the deposit to support storage facility personnel. As such, it represented a tax assessed on deposits, the first evidence we have for a system of taxation on goods in the Inka Empire.”

“These khipus contain all the earmarks of the first known Inca taxation system,” Urton says.

Written by Conny Waters - AncientPages.com Staff Writer