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Accounting in the King's Storehouse: the Inkawasi Khipu Archive

  • Gary Urton (a1) and Alejandro Chu (a2)

The site of Inkawasi (or Incahuasi) is located in the Cahete Valley, on the south coast of Peru. It was a major garrison and storage facility for the Inka expansion onto the south coast, built for housing and provisioning troops in the Inka assault on the Huarco peoples. Archaeological excavations of the storage facility have exposed what is to date a collection of 34 khipus (or quipus), the Inka knotted-string recording devices. We first explain why we consider the collection to constitute an “archive” and what the implications of that classification are for considering the significance of such a large collection of accounting devices associated with state storage. Several of the khipus were found associated with, or covered by, aji (Capsicum sp.), peanuts (Arachis hypogaea), and black beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). We suggest that these may be the products that the khipus recorded. Several khipus were tied together, and two sets of tied, paired samples are shown to contain very similar quantitative records. Close study of the paired samples, as well as the numerical values knotted into several other khipus, reveal different strategies that were being used by the khipu-keepers to maintain “checks-and-balances” accounting. Evidence was also found of possible standardized accounting units for agricultural produce brought to Inkawasi. These took the form of a grid-like array of squares produced by impressing ropes into the floors of two rectangular sorting spaces in the storage complex. The grid-work of squares may have served in the process of spreading out the produce on the floor and collecting and accounting for these products in standardized units. We conclude with reflections on how the processes, procedures, and routines of accounting observed at Inkawasi provide information for approaching the writing of an autochthonous history of the Inka state based on the study of accounting practices.


El sitio de Incawasi (o Incahuasi), ubicado en el valle de Cañete, costa sur del Perú, fue un importante cuartel militar y centra de almacenamiento para la expansión Inca en la costa sur. El sitio fue construido para albergar y aprovisionar a las tropas Incas en la conquista de los Huarcos, habitantes del valle bajo de Cañete. Las investigaciones arqueológicas del complejo de almacenamiento (o Qolqawasi) del sitio nan permitido recuperar hasta lafecha una colección de 34 khipus (o quipus). Varios de los khipus fueron hallados asociados o cubiertos con ají (Capsicum sp.), maní (Arachis hypogaea) y frijol negro (Phaseolus vulgaris). Sugerimos que esto spodrían haber sido los productos de los cuales los khipus dan cuenta en sus valores. Varios de los khipus se encontraban unidos y en dos de estos encontramos registros cuantitativos muy similares. Un estudio detallado de las muestras de los khipus en pares, así cómo los valores anudados en otros khipus, revelan diferentes estrategias empleadas por los Quipucamayocs para mantener una adecuada contabilidad. Se ha encontrado evidencia de una posible forma de establecer unidades estandarizadas para la contabilidad de productos agricolas traídos a Incawasi, correspondiente a una cuadriculación en los pisos de dos áreas del Qolqawasi, hecha mediante de impresión de soguillas en el barro fresco. Estas cuadriculas pudieron servir cuando los productos eran extendidos en elpiso, siendo contabilizados en estos cuadrados, empledndose cómo unidades de medida de los productos agrícolas. Concluimos el estudio con una reflexión de comó el proceso, procedimientos y rutinas contables observadas en Incawasi nos proveen de información para aproximarnos a una historia autoctona del estado Inca basada en el estudio de sus prácticas contables.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Catherine J. Julien 1988 How Inca Decimal Administration Worked. Ethnohistory 35(3):257279.

Keith Robson 1992 Accounting Numbers as “Inscription”: Action at a Distance and the Development of Accounting. Accounting, Organizations and Society 17(7):685708.

Gary Urton 2001 A Calendrical and Demographic Tomb Text from Northern Peru. Latin American Antiquity 12:127147.

Gary Urton 2005 Khipu Archives: Duplicate Accounts and Identity Labels in the Inka Knotted String Records. Latin American Antiquity 16:147167.

Gary Urton , and Carrie J. Brezine 2005 Khipu Accounting in Ancient Peru. Science 309:10651067.

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Latin American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 1045-6635
  • EISSN: 2325-5080
  • URL: /core/journals/latin-american-antiquity
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Supplementary Materials

Urton and Chu Supplementary Material

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Figure S2

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