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The Logical-Numerical System of Inca Quipus

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129313D
Original Publication Date: 1983-Jul-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-05
Document File: 13 page(s) / 51K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

MARCIA ASCHER: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

Quipus, used by the Incas during the sixteenth century, were sophisticated devices for recording and transmitting codified information. They are a part of the global history of data handling and computation. This paper describes the logical-numerical system expressed through these multicolored spatial arrays of knotted cords. Included are basic ideas about the logical structures of some quipu formats and the means of encoding quantitative and nonquantitative data. Several specific examples are given of quipus containing arithmetic and logical relationships.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1983 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

The Logical-Numerical System of Inca Quipus

MARCIA ASCHER

(Image Omitted: © 1983 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Permission to copy without fee all or part of this material is granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for direct commercial advantage, the AFIPS copyright notice and the title of the publication and its date appear, and notice is given that the copying is by permission of the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. To copy otherwise, or to republish, requires specific permission. Author's Address: Department of Mathematics, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY 14850. © 1983 AFIPS 0164-1239/83/030268-278

The Logical-Numerical System of Inca Quipus

MARCIA ASCHER .00/00)

Quipus, used by the Incas during the sixteenth century, were sophisticated devices for recording and transmitting codified information. They are a part of the global history of data handling and computation. This paper describes the logical-numerical system expressed through these multicolored spatial arrays of knotted cords. Included are basic ideas about the logical structures of some quipu formats and the means of encoding quantitative and nonquantitative data. Several specific examples are given of quipus containing arithmetic and logical relationships.

Categories and Subject Descriptors: E.0 [General!; H. O [General; K. 2 [History of Computing] -- software, quipus General Terms: Human Factors Additional Key Words and Phrases: Inca, number representation

Quipus have recently attracted the interest of people in the computing field. One text introduces them when discussing number coding (Sardines 1981); another refers to them as "an elaborate system of information" on which decisions were based (Dorf 1974). They have been called an aid to computation (Smith 1970) and a device for calculating and recording (Redheffer 1966). An early science-fiction book concerned with the effect of computer language on its users likened quipus to punched cards (Delany 1966); a speaker at a conference on the history of computers deemed them "the management information system of the Inca empire" (Luebbert 1976, p. 482); one article calls them "the almost-perfect decision- making device" (Sperry Rand Univac 1978, p. 3). Thus quipus have been described as less than they were and as more than they were.

Although they had no direct influence on the current computing profession, quipus are a part of the broader history of data representation, data storage, and computation. Artifacts of the Inca civilization, in use during the sixteenth century, they afford us a view of how another culture organized and handled data and answered some of the same problems dealt with when using computers today. To appreciate the achievements of the Incas and...