MIT Khipu Research Group

The mystery:
The Inka Empire (1438–1533) had its own spoken language, Quechua, which is spoken today by about 10 million people including a third of the Peruvian population. It is believed that the only “written” language of the Inka Empire is a system of different knots tied in ropes that are attached to a longer cord. This system is called khipu or quipu. The ropes also have different colors, ply, and attachments, providing additional mechanics for encoding information. There is evidence from the Spanish crusades that khipus encoded census data as well as stories. However, no one knows how to decode either kind of information. There are several hundred khipus in the world today, waiting to be read.
The challenge:
Our research group is trying to break the khipu code: how did the Inkas record language with knots in rope? By combining computation, informatics, mathematics, linguistics, and anthropology, we hope to uncover the khipu mystery.
IAP class:
In January 2007, we ran an IAP class on Knot Language: Recreating Inca Quipu/Khipu, from which this research group was formed.
Videos of some of the lectures will be available here soon.
The group:
Our research group consists of students and faculty from a diverse range of fields and universities:
Samuel Blank mathematics Northeastern U.
Carrie Brezine archaeology Harvard
Erik Demaine (cohead) computer science MIT
Martin Demaine (cohead) computer science MIT
Stefan Langerman computer science Free U. Brussels, Belgium
Jean-Jacques Quisquater electrical engineering Catholic U. Louvain, Belgium
Gary Urton archaeology Harvard
Students and postdocs:
Kunal Agrawal computer science MIT
Scott Ananian computer science MIT
Nyls Braak computer science MIT
Edwin Chen mathematics MIT
Suzanne Dermine computer science Catholic U. Louvain, Belgium
Maria Guirguis computer science MIT
Andrew Hamilton archaeology Harvard
Ben Horn highschool student Commonwealth School
J.C. Howard learning and memory MIT
Kalvin Kao bioengineering MIT
Essie Martsinkovsky human development U. Chicago
Melinda Medlock sophomore MIT
Aviv Ovadya computer science MIT
Mihai Pătraşcu computer science MIT
Christophe Petit computer science Catholic U. Louvain, Belgium
Conor Quinn linguistics MIT
Eran Tromer computer science MIT
Yulan Qing mathematics MIT
Olaf Witkowski computer science Catholic U. Louvain, Belgium
Group members only:
We maintain a password-protected wiki for sharing information within the group.