ARCHEOLOGY: Archaeologists find a yupana, the ancient ‘Inca calculator’

Find surprised the researchers. There were 11 quipus and one yupana, an accounting instrument more than 600 years old, during excavations at the Huacones archaeological complex (Cañete, Peru). Finding agrees with information recorded in ancient sources regarding the existence of this Inca count system.

By: María Helena TordE n Cañete Valley, between the road and the sea, lies the archaeological complex of huacones . During the 11th century, this 60-hectare site would have been the center of power of the Guarco local group. Then, in the 15th century, it was occupied by the Incas .For those times, this place, built from adobe platforms, was associated with the longitudinal path of the Qhapaq Ñan coast, a network that connected various settlements along the coastline, such as El Huarco in Cerro Azul.

Due to its strategic location, just one kilometer from the beach, a series of interventions have been carried out in Huacones since last year, in charge of the Qhapaq Ñan Project of the Ministry of Culture. A few weeks ago, a discovery surprised the team led by archaeologist Rodrigo Areche: 11 quipus and one yupana, an accounting instrument more than 600 years old, associated with chili storage tanks were found.

This discovery corroborates not only diverse hypotheses linked to the complex Inca accounting system, but also the palpable evidence of ancient chronicles and documents that mention Yupana as an Inca accounting system. Perhaps the most famous of these sources is the famous plate of Guaman Poma de Ayala, in which the Indian chronicler depicted a senior accountant and treasurer of the empire who extended a quipu in his arms, while on the left side of the painting was a yupana of four columns and five rows.

Black and white stones

Yupana is a calculation tool that was used by officials specialized in Tawantinsuyu accounting records . The one found in Huacones is located inside one of the main complexes of the monument, next to storage tanks, and has the peculiarity of being fixed on the ground, that is, it is not portable. It consists of a mud platform 2.10 m long x 2.00 m wide and 0.22 m high. And on it a series of holes divided into two sets, delimited by incised lines, forming five rows with eight holes each has been implemented. In the whole structure there is a total of 160 holes.

His finding is consistent with information recorded in ancient sources regarding the existence of this counting system. Several viceregal documents indicate that the Andean settlers carried out the counting and registration of their products in the courtyards of the main administrative centers. For this they used small stones and grains of corn that were displaced in quadrants engraved on the floor. For example, in the Vocabulary of the Aymara Language (1612), by the Jesuit Ludovico Bertonio , some terms related to indigenous accounting are included and it is indicated that the stones used in the accounts had different use according to their coloration.

If they were black, they were used to tell what was due; whereas those of white color would have served to mark what had been paid. Although there are different mentions in ancient sources of this counting system, none explains in detail how it worked.

The power of chili

If we take into account that one of the guiding principles in archeology is the association, the importance of this finding is also that the deposits of peppers found were adjacent, that is, associated, to residential elite areas. This leads the researchers to conclude that the elites that inhabited these residential spaces would have controlled the distribution of this resource and that the yupana – together with the quipus found – would have allowed control and registration of the products stored in the deposits.

In the storage structures, two types of peppers were found in excellent state of conservation: Capsicum baccatum (yellow pepper) Capsicum chinense (ají limo and ají panca). Although chili consumption was massive and widespread among all social classes of the prehispanic Andes, the recurrent association of this input in elite residential complexes in several regions of Tawantinsuyu suggests that the control of this product could have fallen on privileged groups. state or local level.

Control of resources

In the opinion of Sergio Barraza , archaeologist researcher of the Qhapaq Ñan Project , the efficient control of the resources stored by the Inca State (surplus production obtained thanks to mita taxation) was a key element for its political consolidation, since it allowed to feed, Dress and equip work contingents and government officials stationed in the provinces.

This system also allowed to consolidate alliances with local groups and reward them for their loyalty. He also adds that the efficient control of the redistribution of resources and the recording and accounting of the production delivered and stored in the warehouses should have been carried out by specialists in registration and accounting, as noted in several testimonies of colonial chroniclers.

The findings of Huacones provide new insights into the complexity and evolution of accounting practices during the Inca era , and raise the possibility that local elites subordinated to Inca control in Cañete continued to use their accounting system for efficient management of your tax assets.

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