Before setting off on your authentic luxury Peru travel, take a minute to learn about a particularly fascinating piece of Andean history.

One of the most interesting aspects of ancient Andean culture is the lack of writing.  So, did the ancient cultures not keep records? As a matter of fact, they did, just in a very different way than we might imagine. Their system was three dimensional, and tactile.


Instead of typical character systems, like the English characters that make up this article, Andean cultures used a system called the quipu. The quipu was the only known Pre-Columbian system for “writing” in South America.

But what is a quipu? Most simply, it is a device based on cords and knots. One quipu consists of several cords tied together, at the most basic level it is made of a main cord and several pendant cords, up to four levels deep.

The main purpose of a quipu is to designate a number, which is shown by knots on a section of the cord of the quipu. Digits range from 0 (no knots, an empty space), to 9 (nine knots).

Multiple digit numbers (like 789) would be shown as three sequences of knots, the first with 7 knots, the second with 8 knots, and the third with 9 knots. The Andean cultures also used different kinds of knots to signal positions. A simple, single knot was always used to represent any position other than the last. A figure eight knot or a four-turn knot were used to represent the last digit.

While the quipu is a well-established accounting tool, research in the 1990s suggested that it may have been used to encode language as well as numbers. A symbol from Andean iconography would be woven into the cord, followed by a number, which would tell the reader which syllable of the iconographic word to pronounce. This suggestion is still disputed among Andean scholars.

Regardless of whether quipus were used to encode spoken language, it is doubtless that quipus were used successfully to organize accounting in the Inca Empire. Unfortunately, further research is difficult as thousands and thousands of quipus were destroyed by conquering forces in the 1500s. Today, there are only several hundred quipus from which to study, leaving little room for comparison and knowledge, though dedicated researchers are continuing to attempt to understand the mysterious quipu.

The authentic luxury Peru travel experts at Ancient Summit can plan your trip to Peru with ease. So whether you’re interested in quipus or Machu Picchu (or both!) be sure to reach out.