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  • List of Illustrations and Maps ix

    List of Tables xiii

    About the Series xv

    Preface xvii

    The Unread Legacy: An Introduction to Tupicocha’s Khipu Problem, and Anthropology’s 3

    1. Universes of the Legible and Theories of Writing 23

    2. A Flowery Script: The Social and Documentary Order of Modern Tupicocha Village 41

    3. Living by the “Book of the Thousand”: Community, Ayllu, and Customary Governance 55

    4. The Tupicochan Staff Code 77

    5. The Khipu Art after the Inkas 109

    6. The Patrimonial Quipocamayos of Tupicocha 137

    7. Ayllu Cords and Ayllu Books 185

    8. The Half-Life and Afterlife of an Andean Medium: How Modern Villagers Interpret Quipocamayos 209

    9. Toward Synthetic Interpretation 237

    Conclusions 267

    Notes 283

    Glossary 295

    References 299

    Index 317
  • Winner, 2005 Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin Award, American Society for Ethnohistory


  • Winner, 2005 Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin Award, American Society for Ethnohistory

  • The Cord Keepers is a brilliant and pathbreaking book. It forces us to reconceptualize what writing is or can be, what it encodes, and whether we should even think of writing as something that records, rather than as a performative practice that engages more actively with the world.”—Joanne Rappaport, author of The Politics of Memory: Native Historical Interpretation in the Colombian Andes — N/A

    “Strokes of good fortune brought Frank Salomon to villages and archives with extraordinary potential for research. Imagination, erudition, and perseverance permitted him to retrieve insights of great importance from these sources. The world seems subtly yet significantly different after reading The Cord Keepers, since Salomon convinces his readers that the human capacities to record meanings and to transmit cultural forms are deeper and broader than they had thought.”—Benjamin Orlove, author of Lines in the Water: Nature and Culture at Lake Titicaca — N/A

    “This is without doubt the most important work ever produced on the khipu. It is extraordinarily bold and inventive in its suggestions for how these ‘texts’ may have been produced and interpreted. The hypothetical reading of the khipu is an absolutely astonishing accomplishment.”—Gary Urton, author of Signs of the Inka Khipu: Binary Coding in the Andean Knotted-String Records — N/A

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  • Description

    None of the world’s “lost writings” have proven more perplexing than the mysterious script in which the Inka Empire kept its records. Ancient Andean peoples encoded knowledge in knotted cords of cotton or wool called khipus. In The Cord Keepers, the distinguished anthropologist Frank Salomon breaks new ground with a close ethnography of one Andean village where villagers, surprisingly, have conserved a set of these enigmatic cords to the present day. The “quipocamayos,” as the villagers call them, form a sacred patrimony. Keying his reading to the internal life of the ancient kin groups that own the khipus, Salomon suggests that the multicolored cords, with their knots and lavishly woven ornaments, did not mimic speech as most systems of writing do, but instead were anchored in nonverbal codes. The Cord Keepers makes a compelling argument for a close intrinsic link between rituals and visual-sign systems. It indicates that, while Andean graphic representation may differ radically from familiar ideas of writing, it may not lie beyond the reach of scholarly interpretation.

    In 1994, Salomon witnessed the use of khipus as civic regalia on the heights of Tupicocha, in Peru’s central Huarochirí region. By observing the rich ritual surrounding them, studying the village’s written records from past centuries, and analyzing the khipus themselves, Salomon opens a fresh chapter in the quest for khipu decipherment. He draws on a decade’s field research, early colonial records, and radiocarbon and fiber analysis. Challenging the prevailing idea that the use of khipus ended under early Spanish colonial rule, Salomon reveals that these beautiful objects served, apparently as late as the early twentieth century, to document households’ contribution to their kin groups and these kin groups’ contribution to their village. The Cord Keepers is a major contribution to Andean history and, more broadly, to understandings of writing and literacy.

    About The Author(s)

    Frank Salomon is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of Native Lords of Quito in the Age of the Incas and coauthor of The Huarochirí Manuscript: A Testament of Ancient and Colonial Andean Religion. He is a coeditor of the two South American volumes of The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas: South America (“Prehistory and Conquest” and “Colony and Republics”).

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