1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Quipus
QUIPUS (Khipus, Qippos), the ancient Peruvian name for a method of recording which was in use at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards. It consisted of a cord two feet in length to which were attached a series of knotted-strings (Peruv. quipu, a knot) hanging like a fringe. These strings were coloured, and the knots, their number and size, their distance apart, the colours, the order in which the coloured threads hung, all had a signification, e.g. white was silver, yellow gold; white meant peace, red war, &c. In this manner a rough register of important events, of births, deaths and marriages, and other statistics was kept, the quipus even constituting a rude history of the people. They were also much used for conveying orders to military chiefs in the provinces.
The idea of knotted strings to aid memory is so simple that it is common to many peoples. A Pelew islander, visiting England, knotted strings as a diary of all that struck him during his travels. In the Hawaiian Islands native carriers have knotted-string records of their rounds. The Peruvian quipus is simply the perfecting of a system of mnemonics common to the Red Indians. See also WAMPUM.