Knot anomalies on Inka khipus: revising Locke's knot yypology

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This article examines anomalies in the knot structure of Andean khipus, proposing a revision to Leland Locke’s decipherment of khipus’ numerical knot system. It begins by describing Locke’s revolutionary insights into how khipus encoded numbers, and then surveys the different types of “anomalous” knots found on Late Horizon khipus which fall outside of Locke’s knot typology. Such non-Lockean knots include long knots with more than nine turns, knots located on the primary cord, long knots that shift colour within the knot, and so forth. Finally, it will focus on a specific type of anomalous knot, referred to as a “nether knot”, which occurs below the unit position on a khipu pendant in a zone where, according to Locke’s knot typology, no knot should be present. Nether knots, which are found on one or more pendants in over 20% of the khipus in the Online Khipu Repository, the world’s largest khipu database, form a significant feature of the khipu corpus. Nonetheless, scholars have not analysed nether knots systematically, nor have they achieved any consensus for how nether knots should be interpreted. This article proposes a reading of nether knots based on ethnographic analogy with nether knots on 20th century khipus from the Central Andes. The applicability of the post-Inka understanding of these anomalous knots to Inka khipus is confirmed by a Late Horizon khipu, KH0424 (B/8707), whose nether knots are shown to express the same numerical principles as those found in khipus from 20th century Huarochirí. A better understanding of nether knots allow us to provide more precise readings for the khipus that contain them. It also demonstrates that pendants on Inka khipus could encode more than one numerical quantity, illustrating the conceptual continuities in the Andean khipu tradition from ancient times to the 20th century.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationActas de la IX jornada internacional de textiles Precolumbinos y Amerindios
EditorsCarolina Orsini, Federica Villa
Place of PublicationMilan, Italy
Number of pages36
Publication statusPublished - 2023
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
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