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Creation  Volume 27Issue 3 Cover

Creation 27(3):40–41
June 2005

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Unravelling the knotty khipu code


When I first heard pioneer creationist Professor Arthur Wilder-Smith (1915–1995) use the example of knots spaced along a rope according to a certain code (e.g. Morse) to explain, simply, how information is stored on DNA,1 I thought it was a clumsy analogy. Who would ever think that a knotted rope could contain coded information?

Shortly after that, I happened across a dictionary entry2 showing that someone had indeed not only already thought of it—long before Professor Wilder-Smith—but had also put the idea into practice. Who? The Incas of South America! They stored information in the form of elaborate knotted strings known as khipu (or ‘quipu’—Quechua word meaning ‘knot’). Science historian Leland Locke worked out in the 1920s that the khipu were not merely decorative—he showed they functioned as a kind of textile abacus, their knots used to store calculations.3,4 

The Incas stored information in the khipu according to a complex binary code, more than 500 years before modern computers were invented.

But Locke’s breakthrough did not decode all of the estimated 600 khipu which survived the Spanish conquest. In recent decades, it became increasingly evident that many of the khipu were ‘clearly nonnumerical’, with some researchers suggesting that the Incan knotted strings may have been a written language.4,5

And now Harvard University’s Gary Urton, Professor of Precolumbian Studies, has identified that the Incas stored information in the khipu according to a complex binary code, more than 500 years before modern computers were invented.

The six binary choices include the direction of the knot (forward or reverse), the spin and ply of the string, the type of material (cotton or wool), and so on. With 24 string colours to choose from, each knot could encode one of 1,536 (i.e. 24 x 26) possible ‘information units’. This is somewhat more than the estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Sumerian cuneiform symbols and more than twice the number of Egyptian hieroglyphic signs. khipu-code

Museum display of a khipu.

But at this stage Urton still has not yet completely cracked the khipu code. To do that would require the discovery of a document in a known language matched to a khipu. That is, something similar to the ‘Rosetta stone’, which enabled Egyptian hieroglyphics to be deciphered.4,6

In the meantime, he is using 21st-century technology to search for common patterns in the knotted cords in an attempt to uncover further information stored in the khipu code.

When Urton discovered ‘three khipu that share part of the information’, he explained that: “This is pretty strong evidence that they were not made by single people. On the contrary, there was a shared code.”5

This evidence of sharing of a sophisticated and mathematically complex code by the Incas makes a mockery of ideas that early people were ‘primitive’ and unsophisticated.

Instead, the Incas obviously had a highly integrated and functioning civilization, and were clearly highly intelligent and inventive—as evidenced by their ingenious khipu.

This evidence of sharing of a sophisticated and mathematically complex code by the Incas makes a mockery of ideas that early people were ‘primitive’ and unsophisticated.

But in fact, the sophisticated storing of information on segments of threaded strands according to a certain code already existed before the Incas invented the khipu.

For the principle was embedded into their very own genes … strands of DNA which had successfully carried the information to build the entire human body, from generation to generation, ever since the creation of the first man and woman.7 So God thought of it first!

And if anyone reading this should doubt that God exists, consider this: code systems have only ever come from intelligence. Matter, by itself, never produces a code.

As the khipu code is an indicator of its inventors’ intelligence, so the DNA code is an indicator of its Inventor’s intelligence—far more information-rich than the khipu, DNA could never have arisen from matter by itself. And the information embedded in DNA had to come from somewhere.8

In the beginning, there had to be information. In the beginning, there had to be intelligence. In the beginning, God

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Further Reading

References and notes

  1. See also Wilder-Smith, A.E., The scientific alternative to neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory, TWFT Publishers, California, USA, pp. 74–75, 1987, which mentions the Inca code. Return to text.
  2. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of the English Language, International Edition, Funk & Wagnalls, Vol. II, p. 1036, New York, USA, 1968. Return to text.
  3. What is a khipu?,, accessed 28 August 2003. Return to text.
  4. Mann, C.C., Cracking the Khipu Code, Science 300(5626):1650–1651, 2003. Return to text.
  5. Lorenzi, R., Inca written language hidden in code? Discovery Channel,, accessed 29 July 2003. Return to text.
  6. The Rosetta stone contained Greek (in demotic and ordinary scripts) as well as Egyptian hieroglyphics—this allowed J.F. Champollion to decipher the latter in 1822. Return to text.
  7. Sarfati, J., DNA: marvellous message or mostly mess? Creation 25(2):26–31, 2003. Return to text.
  8. Gitt, W., In the Beginning was Information, CLV—Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung e.V., Bielefeld, Germany, 1997. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments
Calum M., United Kingdom, 20 March 2015

"And if anyone reading this should doubt that God exists, consider this: code systems have only ever come from intelligence."

What a logical conclusion! It is indeed true that "... the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them."

I never cease to wonder at the absurd stance of those who believe in evolution. This article hits the nail on the head. How can a primordial soup generate information, language and morals? What a leap of faith that must be for them!

You say it time and again on this site: if the obvious solution is disallowed before they even start to examine the evidence, they can only end up with nonsensical theories. Someone should ask them: the next time they're having some broth for lunch, leave the plates on the table, and come back in so many million years to see that the two plates of broth have grown into humans and are arguing with each other over where they came from.

I'm going to stick with creationism: much more rational, believable, simple and, most of all, true.

Keith H., United States, 12 March 2015

I recently learned about the Jewish prayer shawl, the Tallit. The story of these knots reminds me of the knots in the fringes of the Tallit. Numbers 15:38 talks about the tassels that are to be attached to it. I seem to remember the pastor who told us about it saying the number of knots matched the number of laws.

Dennis S., United States, 12 March 2015

I have one of the largest private collections of khipus in the world. Both Nazcan and Incan khipu. In the collection is the complete uniform of a Chaiski Incan relay runner. The chaiski delivered messages that were on the khipu"talking knots" The Incan runners ceramic canteen has two dinosaurs on it circa 1500 AD approx. Dennis S.

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