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 or recipients. The token […]

Added by: Pierre Dragicevic. Category: Passive physical visualization  Tags: anthropology, archaeology, clay, mesopotamians, rearrangeable


2600 BC – 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. The oldest known Quipu is 4600 years old. In the late 16th century quipus were still being used […]

Added by: Pierre Dragicevic. Category: Passive physical visualization  Tags: anthropology, incas, knots, peru, quipus


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 islands. Sources: Wikipedia. Marshall Islands Stick […]

Added by: Pierre Dragicevic. Category: Passive physical visualization  Tags: anthropology, cartographic, marshall islands, stick chart


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 unknown. It was collected by Alphonse Long, French navy physician, while he was on duty in the Marquesas Islands […]

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


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 displays, and big kupes were greatly prized. According […]

Added by: Pierre Dragicevic. Category: Passive physical visualization  Tags: anthropology, preliterate, self-logging, social use


1920 – Yakama Time Ball

Women from the Yakama Native American tribe used strings of hemp as personal diaries. Each major event in their life was represented by a knot, a bead or a shell. This mnemonic device is called an Ititamat, or counting-the-days ball, or simply time ball. The first image shows an Ititamat created before 1920. On the second image, each string is a different Ititamat. The last image shows a 2003 replica. A young woman would use a time ball to record her courtship, marriage, and other […]

Added by: Pierre Dragicevic. Category: Passive physical visualization  Tags: anthropology, preliterate, self-logging, social use