List of Physical Visualizations
and Related Artifacts
With tag “anthropology”

5500 BC – Mesopotamian Clay Tokens

The earliest data visualizations were likely physical: built by arranging stones or pebbles, and later, clay tokens. According to an eminent archaeologist (Schmandt-Besserat, 1999): "Whereas words consist of immaterial sounds, the tokens were concrete, solid, tangible artifacts, which could be handled, arranged and rearranged at will. For instance, the tokens could be ordered in special columns according to types of merchandise, entries and expenditures; donors […]

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2600 BC – Inca Quipus

Quipus were complex assemblies of knotted ropes that were used in South America as a data storage device and played an important role in the Inca administration. Only a handful of specialists could use and decipher them. Their meaning mostly remains a mystery but it seems that color, relative position of knots, knot types and rope length were used to encode categorical and quantitative variables. […]

Added by Pierre Dragicevic. Category: Passive physical visualization. Tags: , , , ,
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1862 – Marshall Islands Stick Charts

These physical visualizations show ocean swell patterns, and were built by native Micronesians from the Marshall Islands to facilitate canoe navigation. They were memorized before trips. The Western world remained unaware of the existence of these artifacts until 1862. The photo above is a stick chart from 1974. Straight sticks represent regular currents and waves, curved sticks represent ocean swells, and seashells represent atolls and […]

Added by Pierre Dragicevic. Category: Passive physical visualization. Tags: , , ,
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1890 – Polynesian Genealogical Instrument

This artefact from the Marquesas Islands (French Polynesia) served as a memory aid for reciting genealogies during ceremonies. Each thread, made of woven coconut fiber, is a genealogical line and each knot is a generation. The genealogy goes back to the mythical origins of Earth, materialized by the oblong ball on top, made of wood (see left image). The date of the artefact is […]

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1898 – Tallies Used as Social Displays on Pacific Islands

In the 19th century, the Torres Strait Islanders did not have a numeral system and used sticks to keep counts. Sticks were tied to a string, forming a bundle (called kupe) that could be rolled and unrolled when needed. Kupes were typically used by men to keep track of their accomplishments, such as turtles caught in deep water, fishes speared, or adventures with women (as the one above). These physical visualizations were used as social […]

Added by Pierre Dragicevic. Category: Passive physical visualization. Tags: , , ,
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