Where Was the Quipu Used in Ancient Times and Who Uses It Now?

The Quipu, a unique recording device, was used by ancient civilizations for over 5,000 years. This device is made up of a series of knotted strings that were used to record numerical data.

The use of this device was widespread and it was used across several different regions in South America. Let’s dig deeper into the history of the Quipu and learn about who uses it today.

The Origin of the Quipu

The origin of the Quipu is still unclear, but it is believed to have been developed by the Inca civilization around 3000 BCE. The Inca Empire was located in modern-day Peru and they are known for their impressive architecture, agriculture, and social organization.

The Quipu quickly became an essential tool for record-keeping within the Inca Empire. It was mainly used to keep track of taxes and tribute paid by different regions within the empire. Other uses included recording censuses, military records, and religious events.

How the Quipu Works

The Quipu consists of a main string with smaller strings attached at regular intervals. These smaller strings are then divided into sections, each with knots tied at various points along them. The position and type of knot would represent different numerical values.

For example, one knot on a string could represent the number one, two knots could represent two and so on. When combined with other knots on other strings, complex calculations could be made.

The Decline of the Quipu

Despite its usefulness and widespread use across South America, the Quipu began to decline in popularity with the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the late 16th century. The Spanish imposed their own methods of record-keeping which undermined the importance of traditional methods like the Quipu.

As time passed, knowledge about how to read and create Quipus was lost. Today, very few people are able to read or create them.

The Quipu Today

Despite the decline of the Quipu, there are still a few communities in South America that continue to use this ancient recording device. These communities are mainly located in Peru and Bolivia, and they use the Quipu for cultural and religious purposes.

In addition, there has been a renewed interest in studying the Quipu among scholars. There have been efforts to revive this ancient method of record-keeping and preserve it for future generations.


The Quipu is an incredible example of human ingenuity and innovation. It played a vital role in the Inca Empire, but unfortunately, its use declined over time.

However, today there are still a few communities that keep this ancient tradition alive. The study of the Quipu continues to fascinate scholars around the world, and it serves as a reminder that our ancestors were capable of incredible feats of engineering and creativity.