From a recent University of Texas Press update:
Gary Urton, SIGNS OF THE INKA KHIPU: Binary Coding in the Andean Knotted-String Records. Gary Urton sets forth a pathbreaking theory that the manipulation of fibers in the construction of khipu created physical features that constitute binary-coded sequences which store units of information in a system of binary recordkeeping that was used throughout the Inka empire.
Signs of the Inka Khipu
Excerpts and TOC
Have I blogged about this before? Given the recent lecture on different bases in math, it seemed apropos. The bottom line, with these Inka khipu, that these knotted string doohickeys many people wrote off as decorative may instead have been carriers of great amounts of information, to those trained to 'read' the binary data storage format. Terrribly interesting stuff. A human being, you see cannot read machine code (what computers actually 'run' when you fire up your web browser, or word processor, or what have you). That's OK, computers can't read human languages, either. That's why the role of programmer or software engineer exists at all -- people who know how to speak one or more of the standardized languages that lay 'between' computer and human, and are used to generate machine-readable code in order that the machine achieve human-specified results. Khipu, apparently, may have been used to store data in a binary format, and thus would require some specialized training (a khipu scientist instead of a computer scientist) to get useful information back out.
From the excerpt:
"It is one of the great ironies of the age in which we live that the cacophony of computer-based, electronically produced information that suffuses our every waking moment is carried into our consciousness on patterned waves of just two signs: 1 and 0. This, of course, is no news. We have all been made aware since the dawn of the present Information Age that the ongoing revolution in computing technology rests on a system of binary coding. I discuss the matter at length below, but I would clarify here that by "binary coding," I mean a system of communication based on units of information that take the form of strings of signs or signals, each individual unit of which represents one or the other of a pair of alternative (usually opposite) identities or states; for example, the signal may be on or off (as in a light switch), positive or negative (as in an electrical current), or 1 or 0 (as in computer coding). One can argue that it is the simplicity of binary coding that gives computing technology and its information systems their great flexibility and seemingly inexhaustible expansiveness. In this study, I explore an earlier and potentially equally powerful system of coding information that was at home in pre-Columbian South America and which, like the coding systems used in present-day computer language, was structured primarily as a binary code."