Anthropology Magazine

Stringing Together an Ancient Empire’s Stories

Stringing Together an Ancient Empire’s Stories

Anthropologist Sabine Hyland attempts to uncover the messages held in twisted and colored Andean cords called khipus.

For centuries, Andean people encoded messages in intricate patterns of knotted and colored strings known as khipus. Thanks to the collaborative approach of anthropologist Sabine Hyland and others, outsiders are finally coming to understand what these khipus mean—for the people of the Andes and for the rest of us.


Sabine Hyland is a professor of anthropology at the University of St. Andrews. Follow her on Twitter @Coyagirl.

For more on khipus, read Hyland’s article about the Collata khipus.

The book Chip mentions at the end of this episode is called Wisdom Sits in Places by Keith Basso.

Read a transcript of this episode here.

SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human is part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library.

Correction: Hyland confirmed for us that the 1783 rebellion was against the Spanish, not the Inca, as she says in one quote in this episode.