Indigenous peoples of Peru, from the Inca all the way back to the oldest known group, the Caral people, used khipus (sometimes spelled the Spanish way, as “quipus”) as an information storage system. A khipu is a set of strings of different lengths and colours with knots at various positions used to track administrative data, taxation, census, accounting info and such things, for at least 5000 years.
Decoding the meanings behind the colours and lengths of string and where the knots appear, has been one of the Holy Grails of archeology for a very long time. For the most part they remain a mystery.
In 1972 NASA launched the Pioneer 10 spacecraft which had a gold plaque attached to one of its legs. The plaque featured illustrations meant to teach any beings who may find Pioneer who we are and where we live. The plaque had a “map” showing the location of Earth using lines representing Earth’s actual distance from 14 different pulsars, the 14 lines featured dots all along them to denote the rotational period of each pulsar. Together this set of lines and dots tell exactly where we are.
I’ve read about khipus since I was a kid and been a huge fan of the plaques that were attached to the Pioneer 10 and 11, and the Voyager 1 and 2 probes, just as long.
Today in the main Lima art gallery I found a room with only a single piece of art. An indigenous artist had recreated the gold plaque from Pioneer 10 exactly as it is on the spacecraft but had removed the map showing Earth’s location. Instead they replaced the 14 pulsar lines with 14 strings of khipus. They removed the marks on the lines that would show which pulsars are being references and replaced them with knots along the khipus taken from untranslated previously discovered khipu threads from Incan sites. Thereby rendering the information on the plaque just as indecipherable as the information these khipus have been holding onto for hundreds of thousands of years here on Earth.
I think this is about the neatest thing I’ve seen in a very long time.