Skip navigation to content

« Back to news items

Prestigious award for decoding the “lost” writing of the Inkas

Wednesday 11 April 2018

A University of St Andrews anthropologist has received a prestigious international award for her work decoding the ancient writing system of the Inkas.

Dr Sabine Hyland has been awarded a $55,000 Guggenheim Fellowship, from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, for her efforts in interpreting the twists of coloured animal hair used by the South American people in the place of ink and paper.

Dr Hyland, of the School of Anthropology at the University, has partially deciphered the system which uses individual cords known as “khipus”, potentially shedding light on the mysterious South American civilisation.

Her discoveries open up the possibility of translating the mysterious Inka string writing, which would dramatically increase current understanding of Inka civilization - the largest indigenous empire of the Americas.

Dr Hyland was one of 175 people recognised for their work in the latest announcement by the Foundation which makes awards to a wide range of scholars, artists, and scientists on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise.

Dr Hyland said: “I am thrilled at this honour, and hope to make more progress in deciphering this fascinating writing system through further research trips to South America now possible thanks to this award.”

Edward Hirsch, President of the Foundation, said: “These artists and writers, scholars and scientists, represent the best of the best.

“Each year since 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has bet everything on the individual, and we’re thrilled to continue to do so with this wonderfully talented and diverse group. It’s an honour to be able to support these individuals to do the work they were meant to do.”

Since its establishment in 1925, the Foundation has granted more than $360 million in Fellowships to more than 18,000 individuals including Nobel laureates, Fields Medalists, Poets Laureate, members of the various national academies, and winners of the Pulitzer Prize, Turing Award, National Book Awards, and other important, internationally recognised honours.