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The Invention of Taxation in the Inka Empire

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

Several khipus—Inka knotted-string recording devices—were recently excavated at a storage facility at the Peruvian south coast site of Inkawasi, found buried under agricultural produce (i.e., chili peppers, peanuts, and black beans). These khipus contain a formulaic arrangement of numerical values not encountered on khipus from elsewhere in Tawantinsuyu (the Inka Empire). The formula includes first, a large number, hypothesized to record the sum total of produce included in a deposit, followed by a “fixed number,” and then one or more additional numbers. The fixed number plus the additional number(s) sum to the original large number. It is hypothesized that the fixed number represents an amount deducted from the deposit to support storage facility personnel. As such, it represented a tax assessed on deposits, the first evidence we have for a system of taxation on goods in the Inka Empire. It is proposed that the size and complexity of the storage facility at Inkawasi prompted the “invention” of a kind of financing instrument—taxation—not known previously from Inka administration. We also consider, but provisionally set aside, the alternative hypothesis that the fixed values recorded on the Inkawasi khipus could have represented amounts of seeds set aside from deposits for the next year's planting.

Durante las excavaciones de un complejo de almacenamiento (Qolqawasi) del sitio de Inkawasi, en la costa sur del Perú, se hallaron varios khipus —instrumentos de registro Inkas empleando cordeles anudados— asociados a diferentes cultivos agrícolas (e.g., ají, maní y frijoles negros). Estos khipus presentan una disposición de valores numéricos que no se ha encontrado en otras partes del Tawantinsuyo (el Imperio Inka). Esta secuencia incluye un valor alto, el cual correspondería a la cantidad total de un determinado producto depositado en un almacén (qolqa), seguido de un “valor fijo” y uno o más números adicionales. Si se suman el valor fijo y los números adicionales, se obtiene al valor alto. Proponemos que el valor fijo representa un monto que era deducido de los productos almacenados en las qolqas para el mantenimiento del personal encargado y el funcionamiento de los almacenes. Ante esta evidencia de un posible impuesto a los productos almacenados, estaríamos ante las primeras manifestaciones de un sistema tributario sobre bienes en el Imperio Inka. Proponemos que, ante el tamaño y complejidad de las instalaciones de almacenamiento, en Inkawasi existió la necesidad de “inventar” un tipo de instrumento financiero —el impuesto— desconocido previamente en estudios de la administración Inka. También podemos considerar como hipótesis alternativa que los valores fijos de los khipus de Inkawasi representen una cierta cantidad de semillas no depositadas en los almacenes que habrían sido empleadas para la siembra de la siguiente cosecha.

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Latin American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 1045-6635
  • EISSN: 2325-5080
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