three dimensional language

Humans have been storing data for analyses & record keeping. We do it in the form of scriptures/text, pictures & graphs.

Yes! Graphs are not new to our civic order of things. We have been using pictorial representation of numbers since ancient times. Here is a picture of Quipu.

a Quipu from Inca empire. image Courtesy: Wikipedia

Its collection of strings with knots that are tied together. The order of the strings signifies the chronology of the events for which the record is being maintained. Also, the knots and the type of knot represents a number.

e.g. a group of 3 single knots represented 3 tens i.e. 10 + 10 + 10. Similarly, there were other types of knots that represented other units. So any number could be represented by tying knots at the right places.

an excerpt from the historical account of Andes(El primer nueva corónica). The picture depicts a person using Quipu to access some information and note it in a table.
Source – Wikipedia

There is another interesting aspect to this.

The Quipu are believed to be from the Incas times. Incase ruled in the Pre-Columbian era in Peru(South America). It is also believed that the Incas could not write. They were not able to develop a script to communicate through writing. However, a few historians believe the Quipus could be something that Incas used to record stories, events and songs. Not just numbers ! So basically, the Quipus could record a narrative that could be accessed later on. Gary Urton, a Harvard University anthropologist has been spending years on decoding what lies in the knots of Quipus. His research has revealed that the various features and possible permutations-combinations of a Quipu (number of knots, type of know, color of the string, order of the knots) allowed to encode abstract entities such as social status, rank, quality of life, etc. he believes that these are somewhat like a sign language.

Gary Urton – Image Source:
Sabine Hyland with khipu board.jpg
Sabine Hyland with a Quipu board. Image Source – Wikipedia

Sabine Hyland is another anthropologist working in Andes. She likes to call the Quipu a 3-dimenstional writing system. Apart from depending upon the sight, it also depended upon the touch – different animal hair were used to create Quipus. Different animal hair signified a different scenario. Might be that different animal hair denoted different clans that existed then. She has been trying to read the quipus and comes up with interpretations that seem to be resonating in different quipus. She contends that the Quipus must have held a lot of importance owing to the amount of information these can hold – both qualitative and quantitative.

You might be interested in reading this article in the NewScientist.

The cover image (below) has a Quipu in the lower half and a polar chart used by Florence Nightingale to record the number of people dying in a year due to different reasons(at war, disease, natural death ,etc.) denoted by black, blue and red colors.

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