25 Statistical artefacts

The principal meaning of the word ‘artefact’, as given in the Macquarie Dictionary, is ‘any object made by man with a view to subsequent use’. If we stretch this definition somewhat, the earliest statistical artefact was surely the hand. Humans have been counting – a proto‐statistical task – since Stone Age times. From the first, it is likely that counting was performed using various parts of the body, especially the fingers and toes, and this is still evident today in the traditional counting systems of some groups of people. A lasting record of a count could be produced by making notches on bones or sticks.

Also very old, but much more sophisticated as a counting record, is the yoked set of knotted strings, called a quipu, of the Inca civilisation in South America. In this chapter, we investigate the quipu as a statistical artefact, and follow with an overview of some other kinds of statistical artefacts.

Quipu is an unusual word in statistics, and one of very few that begin with the letter ‘q’ (see QUESTION 25.3 for another one!). In fact, quipu is the Spanish spelling of the word and also the most common spelling in English. However, an alternative spelling that seems to be gaining prominence in anthropology is khipu, which is taken from the Quechua language. Quechua was the official language of the Inca Empire of the 15th and 16th centuries, and is still a living language today. Since the Spanish conquest of Peru in the mid‐16th century, ...

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