Charles Nevin: The Third Leader

Inca accounting

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Ever tried to add Roman numerals? Exactly. And even more so in other ancient civilisations, once they'd run out of fingers and beans. But now fresh discoveries about the Incas underline the doughty historical struggles of that much-maligned and mocked figure: the accountant.

You might associate the Incas with gold, human sacrifice and the potato. But Harvard scientists have revealed a remarkable accountancy system involving khipu - knotted string - colour-coded (different shades of brown) and space sensitive, with copies and variations allowing some of that "flexibility" cherished by the profession. Never have pieces of string been so wonderfully worked: the response of an Inca accountant when asked by a client how long it was going to take can be readily imagined.

Surely, too, it is time to re-examine early civilisations in the light of what we now know about the importance of accountants. To take just one example from a little further up the Americas: the sudden decline and near-disappearance of the Mayans remains a mystery. But what if they had been advised that, tax-wise, it would make more sense to go off-shore and move to Hawaii? Research, please!

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