Colors of the Inka Khipu: Demonstrating a Link to Textile Production

Author(s): Jon Clindaniel

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "SAA 2019: General Sessions" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Deciphering the meaning of khipu cord colors has long been a topic of debate amongst scholars of the Inka khipu. Were colors used to signify information that could have been interpreted generally (and thus be deciphered today)? Or were color signs primarily used as mnemonic, logical structuring devices that were specific to the individual who produced them and the khipu they were employed on? Such questions have broad implications for understanding non-numerical Inka khipu signs and determining whether or not it is even possible for modern scholars to decipher color signs. Analyzing artifacts collected by Samuel Lothrop in 1941 from a Late Horizon Nazca province grave (now in the Peabody Museum at Harvard University), I find a close link between the colors of khipu cords, textiles, and textile production tools from the grave. Extrapolating from this finding and my additional research into khipu cord colors from across the Inka empire, I suggest that khipu color signs were part of a broader universe of color signs than were contained in any particular khipu or individual mnemonic code. Furthermore, I discuss the implications of my findings for deciphering Inka khipu color signs and better understanding Andean color semiosis as a whole.

Cite this Record

Colors of the Inka Khipu: Demonstrating a Link to Textile Production. Jon Clindaniel. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 450299)

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: -82.441; min lat: -56.17 ; max long: -64.863; max lat: 16.636 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 23094