Since so much about the khipus are unknown to us today, the different colors, length of cord, placement of knots, size of knots, etc., etc., etc., are all unknown—what if it is a language of sorts and was understood as such anciently?
Individual khipus seem to have varied widely in color and complexity; most of the surviving examples generally consist of a pencil-thick primary cord, from which hang multiple "pendant" cords. From those pendants hang ancillary cords called "subsidiaries." One khipu has more than a thousand subsidiary cords.
Sixteenth-century eyewitness accounts describe khipucamayocs studying their khipus intensely to access whatever details had been recorded on them. What if the same knot on different colored cords meant something different? According to Spanish chronicles of the 1560s and 1570s, some khipus appeared to contain information of the sort that other cultures have typically preserved in writing, such as genealogies and songs that praised the king. One Jesuit missionary told of a woman who brought him a khipus on which she had "written a confession of her whole life."
So what if the woman’s confession actually read “while serving as a nurse at Zarahemla, I committed…” Would anyone know that today?
Until those cords, colors and knots can be correctly interpreted, there is no way of knowing what names, places, lands or peoples might be mentioned in the khipus writing. After all, it has been suggested that the only use of khipus was to list numbers, while other knots have been assigned arbitrary letters. However, several different linguist working with the khipus have come up with different assigned letters, with no agreement in sight.
One example of one linguist's interpretation. Note the similarity between some numbers and some letters; and at the bottom left, there are samples of reversed direction that is presently undecipherable
By the middle of the 17th century, Spanish accounts, the only historical sources available from that time, began to cast doubt on the idea that the khipus had ever been "read" like texts. Instead, the knots on khipus came to be viewed as mnemonic prompts analogous to the beads on Catholic rosaries, cues that supposedly had helped the khipucamayocs recall information that they had already memorized. Some scholars argued that a khipus could have only been understood by the same khipucamayoc who'd made it.
However, beyond 1583, Andean cultures secretly continued to use knotted cords to record information well into the 20th century, but the links between modern cords and Inca khipus aren't clear. What's certain is that no one in recent history has been able to fully interpret an Inca khipus, and that today there is much disagreement about them.
One can compare the difficulty in understanding what is contained within the khipus with the Maya hieroglyphs until they were finally interpreted recently. First efforts were made in the 16th century, and revitalized in the 19th century, and then finally additional work was begun in the 20th century, with the final key added in 1981. Today, with the revelation of Yuri Knorosov, a fifteen-year-old fledging Mayanist, scholars can read many glyphs once considered indecipherable, now reading the majority of glyphs available. This combined effort of at least ten major players over nearly four hundred years.
On the other hand, Rongorongo of Easter Island, was not first seen by Westerners until 1864, when Eugène Eyraid, a lay friar of the Congrégation de Picpus, landed on the island and saw hundreds of written tablets of small wooden boards covered in hieroglyphic writing, but learned that the islanders could not agree on how to read them and none could decipher them. As Eyraid wrote two years later, “In every hut one finds wooden tablets or sticks covered in several sorts of hieroglyphic characters: They are depictions of animals unknown on the island, which the natives draw with sharp stones. Each figure has its own name; but the scant attention they pay to these tablets leads me to think that these characters, remnants of some primitive writing, are now for them a habitual practice which they keep without seeking its meaning.” Unfortunately, shortly after most of these boards disappeared, whether destroyed deliberately or accidentally is unknown, but by 1868, there were only a handful left to be seen. The first effort to seriously investigate the writing did not occur until 1914, and a published reference to the glyphs which is even close to comprehensive understanding did not appear until 1958, and another comprehensive work in 1997. However, as with most undeciphered scripts, there are many fanciful interpretations and claimed translations of rongorongo; but apart from a portion of one tablet which has been shown to have to do with a lunar Rapa Nui calendar, none of the texts are understood.
On the other hand, the Maya glyphs are a different story, though they were not interpreted until recently, and the language became readable. As an example, Yucatec Maya (Yukatek Maya) in the revised orthography, that is the set of conventions for writing a language (such as the differences between American English and British English), that is called Màaya t'àan ("Maya speech") by its speakers, is a Mayan language spoken in the Yucatán Peninsula and northern Belize. To native speakers, the proper name is Maya and it is known only as Maya. The qualifier "Yucatec" is a tag linguists use to distinguish it from other Mayan languages (such as K’iche’ and Itza’). Thus the use of the term Yucatec Maya to refer to the language is scientific jargon or nomenclature.
The point is, that even with written material, interpreting information is a long, drawn-out process, with many ancient languages remaining unreadable by modern man. What most people do not understand is that those who had determined the past, have done so with the meagerest of information, in many cases a paucity of artifacts and in far too many cases, an over-imaginative imagination.
(See the next post, “Why Has No Evidence of the Nephites Been Found – Part III,” for more information why when the critics ask about evidence you have a legitimate and accurate answer)