Inka khipus, thread wrappings and subject markers

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This work aims to contribute to our current understanding of how information was organized in khipus, Andean colourful knotted cords used as writing. If the idea that khipu signs could work as a flow chart was common in the last two decades, it is not until the notion of kayte as subject marker was elaborated by Sabine Hyland on the basis of Julio C. Tello's notes that the theory could be discussed on more empirical grounds. So far, the term “kayte” applied to needlework bundles, pompons or tufts attached to the beginning of the primary cord. In this work, the notion will be expanded to thread wrapped segments on Inka-style khipus. To this point, the discussion on the presence of thread wrappings on khipus has been predominantly relegated to Wari khipus, khipus understood to be outside the Inka standard, or post-Inka idiosyncratic “canuto” khipus. Here, thread wrapping present on the primary cord of Inka style khipus will be discussed as a possible specific type of kayte – or subject marker. Consulting literature on Andean thread wrapping technology, thread wrapped kaytes are proposed to be indicators of content related to personhood or territory.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationActas de la IX jornada internacional de textiles precolumbinos y amerindios
EditorsCarolina Orsini, Federica Villa
Place of PublicationLincoln, NE
PublisherZea Books
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781609623043
ISBN (Print)9781609623036
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2024
EventIX International Pre-Columbian and Amerindian Textiles Conference - Mudec – Museo delle Culture, Milan, Italy
Duration: 19 Oct 202222 Oct 2022
Conference number: 9


ConferenceIX International Pre-Columbian and Amerindian Textiles Conference
Internet address


  • Khipus
  • Quipus
  • Thread wrapping
  • Kayte
  • Technological transmission


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