We thought the Incas couldn’t write. These knots change everything ~ New Scientist

A lost language encoded in intricate cords is finally revealing its secrets – and it could upend what we know about Incan history and culture

 

khipus

The Inca system of writing in khipus, or knotted cords

©The Trustees of the British Museum

THE Incas left no doubt that theirs was a sophisticated, technologically savvy civilisation. At its height in the 15th century, it was the largest empire in the Americas, extending almost 5000 kilometres from modern-day Ecuador to Chile. These were the people who built Machu Picchu, a royal estate perched in the clouds, and an extensive network of paved roads complete with suspension bridges crafted from woven grass. But the paradox of the Incas is that despite all this sophistication they never learned to write.

Or did they? The Incas may not have bequeathed any written records, but they did have colourful knotted cords. Each of these devices was called a khipu (pronounced key-poo). We know these intricate cords to be an abacus-like system for recording numbers. However, there have also been teasing hints that they might encode long-lost stories, myths and songs too.

In a century of study, no one has managed to make these knots talk. But recent breakthroughs have begun to unpick this tangled mystery of the Andes, revealing the first signs of phonetic symbolism within the strands. Now two anthropologists are closing in on the Inca equivalent of the Rosetta stone. That could finally crack the code and transform our understanding of a civilisation whose history has so far been told only through the eyes of the Europeans who sought to eviscerate it.

The Spanish conquistadors, led by Francisco Pizarro, first encountered the Incas at the start of the 1530s. They were awestruck by the magnificent stone cities, the gold and treasure. But as the Spanish began to take over the Inca empire and impose their own customs, they became equally enthralled by the way the society was organised.

Machu Picchu

The Inca royal palace of Machu Picchu

Ralph Lee Hopkins/National Geographic Creative

The Incas governed the 10 million people in their realm with what amounted to a federal system. Power was centred in Cusco, in the south of what is now Peru, but spread through several levels of hierarchy across a series of partially self-governing provinces. There was no money and no market economy. The production and distribution of food and other commodities was centrally controlled. People had their own land to farm, but every subject was also issued with necessities from state storehouses in exchange for labour, administered through an impressive tribute system.

“Break the khipu code and we might finally read an indigenous Inca history”

Historians have argued variously that the Inca empire was a socialist utopia or an authoritarian monarchy. But no one disputes its efficiency. “It was an extraordinary system,” says Gary Urton, an anthropologist at Harvard University. “Administratively speaking, it was very sophisticated and it seems to have worked well.”

Key to that success was the flow of reliable data, in the form of censuses, tribute accounts and storehouse inventories. For that, the Incas relied on the khipumayuq, or the keepers of the khipus, a specially trained caste who could tie and read the cords.

artwork

Jonny Wan

The majority of surviving khipus consist of a pencil-thick primary cord, from which hang multiple “pendant” cords and, in turn, “subsidiaries”. The Spanish described how they were used to record all manner of information. The poet Garcilaso de la Vega, son of an Inca princess and a Spanish conquistador, noted in a 1609 account that they had “an admirable method of counting everything in the Inca’s kingdom, including all taxes and tributes, both paid and due, which they did with knots in strings of different colours.”

There are reasons to think khipus may record other things, including stories and myths – the sort of narrative information that many cultures write down. De la Vega was among many chroniclers who hinted as much, writing in one passage that the Incas “recorded on knots everything that could be counted, even mentioning battles and fights, all the embassies that had come to visit the Inca, and all the speeches and arguments they had uttered”. True, he was prone to ambiguity and contradictions. But about a third of the khipus in collections seem to have a more elaborate construction than the others, as if they contain a different sort of information. For decades the point was moot, however, because no one could read any of them.

The first hints of revelations from khipus came in the 1920s, when anthropologist Leland Locke analysed a bunch of them housed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He noticed that the knots are organised in rows almost like beads on an abacus (see diagram). He demonstrated that each row of knots at a certain height denoted units, tens, hundreds and so on. That made sense, fitting with the decimal system the Inca used to divide up groups for tribute purposes.

Written in knots

Hard knot to crack

The discovery sparked a wave of interest in khipus. By the 1990s, though, we still had no idea what the numbers meant. “Say you read off the number 76 – what does it refer to?,” asks Urton.

To answer that, you would ideally have a translation of a khipu into a familiar language. It would be an equivalent of the Rosetta stone, which contained a translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics into ancient Greek and unlocked that picture language. In the absence of that, Urton has spent the last 25 years tracking down and carefully digitising the details of every khipu he could find in museums and private collections across the world. Today, his Khipu Database Project contains details of more than 900 of them.

There are all sorts of varying factors in khipus: the colour of the strings, the structure of the knots and the direction in which they were hitched. Having spent countless hours poring over them, Urton began to think that binary differences in these features might be encoding information. For example, a basic knot tied in one direction could mean “paid”, while in the other it would mean “unpaid”. By 2012, he had developed a more specific hypothesis, proposing that the direction in which knots were tied, the colours of the strings, or some combination of the two, corresponded to the social status of the people whose tributes they recorded, and even individuals’ names. Without a khipu translation, however, the idea looked destined to remain untested.

Then in 2016, Urton was browsing his personal library when he picked out a book that contained a Spanish census document from the 1670s. It was what the colonists referred to as a revisita, a reassessment of six clans living around the village of Recuay in the Santa valley region of western Peru. The document was made in the same region and at the same time as a set of six khipus in his database, so in theory it and the khipus were recording the same things.

Checking it out, Urton found that there were 132 tribute payers listed in the text and 132 cords on the khipus. The fine details fitted too, with the numbers on the cords matching the charges the Spanish document said had been levelled. It seemed to be the match he had been looking for.

Even so, Urton was struggling to pick apart the detail of the connections between the Santa valley khipus and the Spanish documents. He ended up letting a Harvard undergraduate student named Manny Medrano take a look. He turned out to have the perfect complement of skills for the job. He was a native Spanish speaker and, majoring in economics, he was a whizz with spreadsheets. Medrano painstakingly generated tables of the khipu data and combed through them in search of matching patterns. This year, he and Urton showed for the first time that the way pendant cords are tied onto the primary cord indicates which clan an individual belonged to.

“It is a really important achievement,” says Jeffrey Splitstoser at George Washington University in Washington DC, who specialises in khipus from the Wari empire that preceded the Inca. “It gives us a new way to interpret these sources. Gary has made things a lot more tractable.” Yet the question of whether the khipus also contain stories still hung there.

~~~  READ ON  ~~~

‘Silverton’ a painting by Paul Folwell @ Maria’s Bookshop in Durango …

silverton by Folwell.JPG

~~~

 

A beautiful painting by Paul Folwell titled “Silverton”.  It’s an incredible piece.  The sky is magical.  This was painted in one of Paul’s classic periods twenty some years ago. Canvas size is 30” x 48”.

Silverton has been proudly displayed at Maria’s Bookshop for a long time and is currently hanging on the wall of the shop. “Silverton” is looking for a new home. It’s a classic piece.

Paul Folwell is one of the original Purgatory patrollers and is the namesake of Pauls Park ski run at Purg. He is still painting canvas daily with great success.

Please see Maria’s owners Andrea & Peter for details.

 

And for a cool history of Maria’s Bookshop (which is for sale)

~~~

Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 9.55.41 AM.png

~~~

Screen-Shot-2018-12-13-at-9.55.00-AM.png

~~~Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 9.38.50 AM.png

 

Jon Batiste’s World Is Wonderful, but Flawed ~ NYT

Jon Batiste spoke about the way New Orleans and New York had molded his career and musical aesthetic. Credi tMike Cohen for The New York Times

By Doug MacCash

NEW ORLEANS — Discussing his views on music’s role in a city’s culture, the jazz keyboardist Jon Batiste, who is the band leader on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” told a panel in New Orleans that music has a unique power to inspire action.

Music has always been the soundtrack of movements, he said.

Mr. Batiste, 32, who hails from the nearby suburb of Kenner, spoke with Marc Lacey, the national editor of The New York Times, then concluded by stepping to the piano and playing a stark, somewhat melancholy rendition of “What a Wonderful World,” a tune made famous by Louis Armstrong.

The performance was perfect, as the lyrics seemed to reflect Mr. Batiste’s inherent optimism, while his contemplative execution communicated the musician’s awareness of social inequity that permeated the Armstrong era and beyond. Mr. Batiste, the final panelist at the Cities for Tomorrow conference, talked about how his career and musical aesthetic were molded by two dynamic cities.

In New Orleans, he was steeped in jazz culture, both as a member of one of the city’s premier musical families and as a student at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. When, at age 17, his talent took him to the Juilliard School in New York, he absorbed the kinetic nature of the metropolis, where he and his band played mini concerts for subway riders.

Jon Batiste’s performances on the Colbert show are superb, his talents multi cultural from jazz to classical to ‘improv’, but they are all too brief. I long for him & his band ‘Stay Human’ to be given a full time slot of his own which the live audience enjoys during the commercial breaks but the TV audience does not. More Jon Batiste, please!

Earlier panelists had discussed how the rise in population and economic vitality in many cities had exacerbated inequity. Mr. Batiste’s view of music’s role in city culture reflected his resistance to urban unfairness. When Mr. Lacey asked if music could be part of “the actual lifting up of cities,” Mr. Batiste responded in activist terms.

Music can inspire action, he said. “Music has always been a way for people to endure hardship and figure out how to really connect to their humanity or affirm their humanity when everything around them is trying to squash their humanity,” he said.

Jon Batiste Performs ‘What a Wonderful World’ Credit Video by The New York Times Conferences
Marc Lacey, left, with Mr. Batiste.CreditMike Cohen for The New York Times

The importance of music, he added, goes beyond entertainment. “In any situation, music can be used as a reprieve or a balm.”

Not all of Mr. Batiste’s comments on music and its impact on city lifestyle were as weighty.

He confessed that he liked to play his piano loudly, which irks his neighbors in tight New York apartment buildings. Or, at least it used to. As he explained, when he became a television personality, the reproachful notes and the pounding on his floor from the room below magically ceased.

Reflecting on his instant upsurge in prestige upon taking the “Late Show” job, he said, “TV is crazy.”

In addition to his TV duties, Mr. Batiste is working on the score for a Broadway musical based on the life of the late 1980s art superstar Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The title of Mr. Batiste’s most recent album, “Hollywood Africans,” was taken from a 1983 Basquiat painting. The album includes his gorgeously ironic “What a Wonderful World.”

How Do You Map A Drought? With Art, Science And Some Good Ol’ Farmer Wisdom ~ Colo Public Radio

We spoke with a lot of voters concerned about conservation, the drought and water issues. On our way to the Western Slope we stopped at Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, where the water level was visibly low. Bare ground could be seen between stands of trees where normally there would be water.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

As extreme drought marched northward from Arizona and New Mexico and parked itself squarely over the Four Corners in early 2018, many turned to one tool to understand the change: the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The map is updated weekly, and it continues to show poor conditions in much of the Southwest.

“Droughts are like the Rodney Dangerfield of hazards. They just don’t get any respect,” said Drought Monitor co-creator Mark Svoboda, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Standing watch for the drought typically happens under the radar. TV crews are quick to cover hurricanes and wildfires. They seldom rush out to stand in front of a desiccated farm field or talk about the federal money set aside for crop losses.

As with many government initiatives, the Drought Monitor got its start after drought struck Washington D.C. 20 years ago. Today the once-obscure resource is used by water planners who decide resource allotments, farmers who need water for their livelihood and federal bureaucrats who it to calculate aid for the Livestock Forage Disaster Program.

The U.S. Drought Monitor tracks the encroaching drought in Colorado through 2018.
U.S. Drought Monitor

Citizen scientists like Dave Kitts outside of Sante Fe, New Mexico are keen to the insights the drought maps provide.

“I think it’s a little obsessive. But I check it every Thursday,” said Kitts, who’s lived on the same 2-acre spread in New Mexico for decades.

He watches the map because he can chart progress on his land. Good wet years mean normal conditions. Dry years crust the soil and kill his pinyon trees.

“It’s just upsetting and depressing to me,” Kitts said. “And when it moves the other direction it definitely lifts my spirits.”

In bad drought years, the map can appear to be yellow, orange and red crayola crayons melted in a haphazard jumble. Each color signifies a level of drought, with deep crimson being the worst. White patches signify normal, moist conditions.

The colorful blobs are intentional, driven by dozens of data points.

Svoboda pointed out they cover everything, “from groundwater, stream flow, [to] temperature.”

Right now all eyes are on the dark red bullseye in Four Corners.

Any weekly adjustments to that bullseye — for better or worse — often take into account input from hundreds of people. It all starts with recommendations from state climatologists on any potential changes.

Assistant Colorado Climatologist Becky Bolinger is personally “feeling a little bit more hopeful“ about recent rain and snow translating into a smaller blotch hovering over the confluence of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

State recommendations aren’t always based on professional weather watchers. Ranchers and farmers from across the country also send missives to state and national offices.

“We’ve gotten some very specific examples of like, ‘Well, I went out to put in a wood post and the surface was wet and three inches deep the soil was bone dry,’” Bolinger said.

Once recommendations from around the nation arrive, then comes the hard work. Every single national Drought Monitor map is authored by one person who coordinates reports from around the country.

David Simeral, of the Nevada-based Desert Research Institute, is one of those authors. He said the map is “a physically and emotionally draining process,” that starts with data and then he digs into the recommendations. If that sounds like an 8-hour workday, think again. Fortunately, the map author job is rotated between creators every two weeks.

The lines of the Drought Monitor are both a science and art — and a high stakes proposition. Since 2011, the Drought Monitor has triggered $7 billion to ranchers through the Livestock Forage Program.

Each public map has the author’s name printed on it, so Simeral and his peers quickly develop a thick skin. He often finds himself justifying decisions to everyone including politicians who watch federal aid tied to the map, the ranchers who do or don’t receive it and everyday people like Dave Kitts.

He picked up the phone and called the Drought Monitor a few weeks ago after multiple storms moistened the soil on his small ranch. But he didn’t see any changes on the monitor.

Simeral was ready to listen.

“[Kitts] told me it was the most he had seen in the 25 years he had lived in that area,” Simeral said.

So, Simeral wrote down the information and included it in the reams of data for the the following week’s author to review.

Kitts was pleased.

“It even seemed as if my little bit of data was important to [Simeral] and the other authors of the map,” he said.

After that conversation even more rain fell in New Mexico. One week later, when Kitts’ routine brought him back to the drought map, he saw a small improvement for drought classification in his New Mexico county.

There was another change, too: A new appreciation for the Drought Monitor, and the hundreds of people behind it.

The Term ‘Drought’ Is Out of Date for the American Southwest. They Call It ‘Aridification’ Now.

BY

Esquire

NV: Drought Drops Lake Mead Water Level To 40 Year Low

Getty ImagesEthan Miller

On Wednesday, representatives of the Colorado River Water Users Association, a consortium of seven western states, as well as representatives of the federal government, opened a meeting in Las Vegas. Nearly 20 years of drought conditions combined with increased usage in those states have shrunk reservoirs and generally depleted the water supply to the point where drastic—and, very likely, painful—collective action has become immediate and vital.

When the meeting was first called, its purpose was to develop a plan for that action, and a method by which the states that depend on the Colorado River and associated water could share the sacrifice that everyone agreed was necessary and imminent. That, alas, didn’t happen. From the Wyoming News:

Arizona has been the holdout, with farmers, cities, Indian tribes and lawmakers in the state set to be first to feel the pinch still negotiating how to deal with water cutbacks when a shortage is declared, probably in 2020.”There will be cuts. We all know the clock is ticking. That’s what a lot of the difficult negotiations have been around,” said Kim Mitchell, Western Resource Advocates water policy adviser and a delegate to ongoing meetings involving the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Central Arizona Project, agricultural, industrial and business interests, the governor, state lawmakers and cities including Tucson and Phoenix.

Severe Drought Drains Colorado River Basin
Getty ImagesJustin Sullivan

In Arizona, unlike other states, a final drought contingency plan must pass the state Legislature when it convenes in January. Federal water managers wanted a deal to sign at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference beginning Wednesday in Las Vegas, and threatened earlier this year to impose unspecified measures from Washington if a voluntary drought contingency plan wasn’t reached.

The water associated with the Colorado River supports 40 million people and irrigates millions of acres of prime agricultural land, and, right now, today, all of that is in desperate shape, and there is no time remaining for dilatory measures.

After 19 years of drought and increasing demand, federal water managers project a 52 percent chance that the river’s biggest reservoir, Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam, will fall low enough to trigger cutbacks under agreements governing the system. The seven states saw this coming years ago, and used Colorado River Water Users Association meetings in December 2007 to sign a 20-year “guidelines” plan to share the burden of a shortage. Contingency agreements would update that pact, running through 2026. They call for voluntarily using less to keep more water in the system’s two main reservoirs, lakes Powell and Mead.

image
Getty Images

 

In the course of looking at what’s going on with the planet’s water, I’ve learned a new word: “aridification.” It was a word coined to describe what’s going on with the area served by…wait for it…the Colorado River. From the High Country News:

This spring, the Colorado River Research Group, an independent team of scientists focused on the river, labeled the climate transition in the Colorado River Basin “aridification,” meaning a transformation to a drier environment. The call for a move away from the word “drought” highlighted the importance of the specific language used to describe what’s going on in the Southwest: It could shift cultural norms around water use and help people internalize the need to rip out lawns, stop washing cars and refrain from building new diversions on already strapped rivers.

Essentially, it means that dry places are getting drier, and that the transformation is likely to be permanent, unless human beings radically alter their behavior toward water usage. From the Colorado River Research Group:

Perhaps more importantly, moving forward means abandoning the mindset that current changes to climatic and hydrologic regimes are a temporary phenomenon. We are not likely to ever return to normal conditions; that opportunity has passed (Milly et al, 2008). Rather, there are two possible new normals.

First is a continuation (and likely acceleration) of the current drying trend and the accompanying increase in variability, an outcome largely “baked into” the system by existing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

Severe Drought Drains Colorado River Basin
Getty ImagesJustin Sullivan

A second, and better, new normal would be to establish regional hydrologic conditions at a steady new level—a step change—that results from the stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at some new equilibrium. Achieving this second outcome will require many actions taken across the globe, and in sectors beyond water management. Nonetheless, the Colorado River management community can still be a leader in promoting and contributing to such actions.

There is much to gain in the basin by leading on these larger issues, as well as by exploring local opportunities—such as dust suppression—to slow or halt ongoing environmental changes. It is time for water managers to both adapt for the profound changes the future holds and to advocate within the political sphere for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. A very modest starting point is to admit words such as drought and normal no longer serve us well, as we are no longer in a waiting game; we are now in a period that demands continued, decisive action on many fronts.

This has been your now-almost-daily Water Apocalypse update.


Oval Office Drama with Chuck & Nancy and what’s his name

President Trump’s Oval Office meeting on Tuesday with Senator Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House leader, quickly devolved into a public bickering match. The big sticking point was Trump’s insistence on funding for a border wall — and because the president had insisted on bringing news cameras into the meeting, the tense negotiations became public theater.

The late-night hosts all covered the altercation, saying Trump came off as impulsive. Jimmy Kimmel remixed footage from the meeting, turning it into an imaginary clip from “The Real White House Wives of D.C.”

CreditCreditVideo by Jimmy Kimmel Live

“Trump is threatening to shut the government down unless Congress fully funds the border wall. Trump said he would be, quote, ‘proud to shut the government down for border security.’ He’s basically a toddler threatening to keep screaming on the floor of Toys ‘R’ Us until Congress buys him a Hatchimal.” — JIMMY KIMMEL

“It looks like Trump’s border wall is right on track to still never be built. Trump says if he doesn’t receive funding for his border wall, he will ask the military. And if that doesn’t work, he’ll have no choice but to ask Santa Claus.” — JAMES CORDENA

CreditCreditVideo by The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert pointed out that Pelosi pulled no punches in a meeting with House Democrats after her Oval Office visit, saying the border wall was “like a manhood thing” for Trump.

“So the wall is a metaphor for his manhood? No wonder he’s having trouble erecting it.” — STEPHEN COLBERT

“That’s pretty cold from Nancy Pelosi, you know? It’s like she always says: When they go low, we punch ’em in the junk!” — STEPHEN COLBERT

An Upheaval at the Ends of the World ~ The Atlantic

Penguins waddling ashore
Penguins come ashore in Neko Harbour on the Antarctic PeninsulaALEXANDRE MENEGHINI / REUTERS
It was not so long ago—only 108 years, within a great grandma’s memory—that a person’s eyes first beheld the South Pole. When Roald Amundsen made it to the bottom of the world in 1911, it marked a new chapter in the human story. Our curious, inventive, and adaptable species, born on the sunny savannah, had reached that last spot of remote desolation on our home planet.

Little did we know that less than a century later, the hustle and bustle of our society would alter that ancient landscape forever.

The pristine environments at both poles of the Earth are changing, perhaps irreversibly, according to a new pair of federal studies. On Monday, a new nasa report warned that ancient glaciers in Antarctica are “waking up” and beginning to dump ice into the sea, which could eventually raise sea levels.

The following day, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its new Arctic Report Card, which finds that the top of the world is also thawing, melting, and breaking down. The Arctic is undergoing a period of “record and near-record warmth unlike any period on record,” the report says.

Emily Osborne, a scientist who leads Arctic research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, repeated this warning while speaking at a major geoscience conference on Tuesday. “The Arctic is experiencing the most unprecedented transition in human history,” she said.

 

The new finding may complicate that conclusion. Using a new database of global ice movements, NASA scientists found that several glaciers in the East Antarctic Ice Sheet are quickening their march toward the sea. Since 2008, a set of glaciers that feed Vincennes Bay—which is due south of Australia—lost about 9 feet of overall height. Their speed has also increased, suggesting that these glaciers are dumping more ice into the ocean than researchers previously expected.

The Vincennes Bay glaciers are important because they block the inland Aurora and Wilkes ice basins from tumbling into the sea. If both basins collapsed, they could raise sea levels by 92 feet. “Taken together, they’re about four Greenlands [worth of sea-level rise],” said Catherine Walker, a glaciologist at NASA, speaking at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union on Monday.

~~~  CONTINUE READING  ~~~