An example of a quipu from the Inca Empire, currently in the Larco Museum Collection.
Quipu, Khipu
LanguagesAymara, Quechua, Puquina
Time period
3rd millennium BCEA – 17th century (some variants are used today)
Sister systems
Chinese knots, Wampum
Quipu in the Museo Machu Picchu, Casa Concha, Cusco

Quipu (also spelled khipu), or talking knots,[1] were recording devices fashioned from strings historically used by a number of cultures in the region of Andean South America.[2]

Knotted strings were used by many other cultures such as the ancient Chinese and native Hawaiians,[3] but such practices should not be confused with the quipu, which refers only to the Andean device.

A quipu usually consisted of cotton or camelid fiber strings. The Inca people used them for collecting data and keeping records, monitoring tax obligations, properly collecting census records, calendrical information, and for military organization.[4] The cords stored numeric and other values encoded as knots, often in a base ten positional system. A quipu could have only a few or thousands of cords.[5] The configuration of the quipus has been "compared to string mops."[6] Archaeological evidence has also shown the use of finely carved wood as a supplemental, and perhaps more sturdy, base to which the color-coded cords would be attached.[7] A relatively small number have survived.

Objects that can be identified unambiguously as quipus first appear in the archaeological record in the first millennium AD. They subsequently played a key part in the administration of the Kingdom of Cusco and later Tawantinsuyu, the empire controlled by the Inca ethnic group, flourishing across the Andes from c. 1100 to 1532 AD. As the region was subsumed under the invading Spanish Empire, the use of the quipu faded from use, to be replaced by European writing and numeral systems. However, in several villages, quipu continued to be important items for the local community, albeit for ritual rather than practical use. It is unclear as to where and how many intact quipus still exist, as many have been stored away in mausoleums.[8]

Quipu is the Spanish spelling and the most common spelling in English.[9] Khipu (pronounced [ˈkʰɪpʊ], plural: khipukuna) is the word for "knot" in Cusco Quechua. In most Quechua varieties, the term is kipu.


The word "khipu", meaning "knot" or "to knot", comes from the Quechua language word: quipu, 1704, the "lingua franca and language of administration" of Tawantin Suyu.[10]

"The khipu were knotted-string devices that were used for recording both statistical and narrative information, most notably by the Inka but also by other peoples of the central Andes from pre-Inkaic times, through the colonial and republican eras, and even – in a considerably transformed and attenuated form – down to the present day."

Archaeologist Gary Urton, 2003.[11]

Other Languages
العربية: كيبو
asturianu: Quipu
Aymar aru: Qhipu
azərbaycanca: Kipu
беларуская: Кіпу
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Кіпу
български: Кипу
català: Quipu
čeština: Kipu
dansk: Quipu
Deutsch: Quipu
eesti: Kipu
español: Quipu
Esperanto: Kipuo
euskara: Kipu
فارسی: کیپو
français: Quipu
한국어: 키푸
հայերեն: Կիպու (գիր)
hrvatski: Khipu
Bahasa Indonesia: Quipu
íslenska: Hnútaletur
italiano: Quipu
עברית: קיפו
ქართული: კიპუ
lietuvių: Kipu
magyar: Kipu
македонски: Кипу
Bahasa Melayu: Quipu
Nederlands: Quipu
norsk: Quipu
norsk nynorsk: Quipu
português: Quipo
română: Quipu
Runa Simi: Khipu q'aytu
русский: Кипу
slovenčina: Kipu
српски / srpski: Кипуи
suomi: Quipu
svenska: Quipu
தமிழ்: கிப்பு
ไทย: กีปู
Türkçe: Quipu
українська: Кіпу
中文: 奇普