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Archaeo News 

23 July 2005
Pre-Incas kept detailed records

A sophisticated arrangement of knots and strings, found on the site of the oldest city in the Americas, indicates ancient Peruvians were skilled at conveying detailed information much earlier than once thought.
     Archaeologists say the string arrangement, known as a quipu or khipu, indicates ancient Americans were expert communicators thousands of years earlier. Until now the oldest known quipus, often associated with the Incas, dated from about 650 CE. But Dr Ruth Shady, an archeologist leading investigations into the Peruvian coastal city of Caral, says quipus were among a treasure trove of articles discovered at the site, which is about 5000 years old. "This is the oldest quipu and it shows us that this society ... also had a system of 'writing' [which] would continue down the ages until the Inca empire and would last some 4500 years," Shady says.
     The quipu with its well-preserved, brown cotton strings wound around thin sticks, was found with a series of offerings including mysterious fibre balls of different sizes wrapped in 'nets' and pristine reed baskets. "We are sure it corresponds to the period of Caral because it was found in a public building," Shady says. "It was an offering placed on a stairway when they decided to bury this and put down a floor to build another structure on top."
     Pyramid-shaped public buildings were being built at Caral, a planned coastal city 180 kilometres north of Lima, at the same time that the Saqqara pyramid, the oldest in Egypt, was going up. Shady says no equivalent of the Rosetta Stone, which deciphered the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt, have yet been found to fully unlock the language of the quipus.
     Caral's arid location at an altitude of 3500 meters has helped to preserve its treasures, like piles of raw cotton, still uncombed and containing seeds, though turned a dirty brown by the ages, and a ball of cotton thread.

Source: ABC.net.au, Reuters (20 July 2005)

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