Friday, July 06, 2007

Some Cord Color Use Observations based on Surveying the Ascher-Ascher Database


I uploaded a systematic though non-exhaustive survey of the occurrance of "color descriptor" words used by the Aschers to describe the colors of the cords present in the khipus catalogued in their database.

This table can be accessed at:

The data used in the analysis comes from the most recent XLS version (3.0) of the Ascher-Ascher Database available at:

A number of color conventions can be identified.

(1) The background colors of the cords present tend to be neutral (AA code "W") and varying shades (light to dark) and tints ("yellowish," "reddish", "olive", etc) of brown and gray.

(2) Actually the most commonly observed tint of brown is "yellowish." Of 10,573 cords described as being "brown" or "brownish" in color some 6,069 are described as being "yellowish brown." At the same time, not all khipus in the database use "yellowish brown" cords. At some point, therefore, there may be a need to "yellow" (or perhaps "light" or "dark" or "gray") "shift" the data on individual khipus to put them all in a standard form in order to analyze them properly across the whole AA database.

Such "color shifting" of data of individual khipus to standardize them across the whole database would have to be done carefully (on a spreadsheet, in a separate column) so as not to lose/compromise the original data.

(3) Multicolored cords (mottled, barberpole, joined) are more frequently used as subsidiary cords rather than directly as pendant cords. Of a total of 17,635 cords listed in the Ascher-Ascher database, 4012 (or 22.7%) are listed as being subsidiary cords. Yet the percentage of multicolored (mottled, barberpole, joined) cords used as subsidiary cords is 32.6%, 37%, 38.1% respectively, all much higher (30-45% higher in frequency) than the average 22.7% across the whole database. That this would be the case, can make sense if one thought that pendant cords would carry more primary information, and subsidiary cords carried secondary or more nuanced, modifying information.

(4) Further analysis of the data present in the tables surveying the characteristics of cords colored "olive/green", "orang/red", "blue" indicates:

(a) That generally one colored cords of this type appear in a limited number (1-4) of shades (light - dark), presumably the shades carrying particular meaning;

(b) Many (most) khipus have a clear formating:

(i) In some cases, all the pendant, or subsidiary cords, of a particular pendant group have exactly the same color;
(ii) In other cases, cords of a particular position within a number of pendant groups are of exactly the same color.

Both cases indicate obvious, if 2 different styles of formatting.

(5) Finally, use of the color descriptor words by which the Ascher-Ascher color codes are defined (rather than the Ascher-Ascher codes themselves) to analyze color offers one the possibility to better compare patterns over different khipus within a given data base because perhaps in one khipu cords labeled as being "deep olive" in color can be identified as "strong olive" or "dark grayish olive" or perhaps even labeled "mottled" elsewhere. The original khipumakers/readers could have done such "color shifting" quite naturally in making and reading khipus, but we have to be prepared to do so now in our computer analyses of the data present.

Tint or shade shifting of cord color listings to make better comparisons over the entire database are much more easily done now that the colors listed by the Aschers in their database are now listed both by the AA color codes and by means of the color descriptor words defining those codes.

Anyway, happy color analysis to everyone as well!

Please let others know here (ie through this blog...) if you come to other interesting insights as well!



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