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Gary Urton is an anthropological archaeologist who taught in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Colgate University from 1978 to 2002, after which time he moved to Harvard University where he was Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian Studies in the Department of Anthropology from 2002 to 2020. He was chairman of the Harvard Department of Anthropology from 2012 to 2018. He retired from teaching in 2020.


He earned a B.A. in History at the University of New Mexico (1969) and an M.A. in Ancient History (1971) and a Ph.D. in Anthropology (1978) at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. His mentors at Illinois were R. Tom Zuidema and Donald W. Lathrap.


His research has focused on pre-Columbian and early colonial Andean cultural and intellectual history using methods and theories in field and archival research drawn from archaeology, ethnology and ethnohistory. He is the author of many articles and of numerous books and edited volumes on Andean/Quechua cultures and Inka civilization. He has edited or co-edited 13 volumes. His articles are available for downloading at:


He co-directed archaeological field schools in Tiwanaku, Bolivia (summers 2005-07), on the north coast of Peru (summers 2015, 2017, 2019), and near to Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil (summer 2018).


His books, all of which have been published in both English and Spanish, include:

At the Crossroads of the Earth and the Sky: An Andean Cosmology (1981); En el cruce de rumbos de la tierra y el cielo (2006).

The History of a Myth: Pacariqtambo and the Origin of the Inkas (1990); Historia de un Mito: Pacariqtambo y el origen de los Inkas (2004).

The Social Life of Numbers: A Quechua Ontology of Numbers and Philosophy of Arithmetic (1997); La Vida Social de los Números: Una ontología de los números y la filosofía de la aritmética quechuas (2003).

Inca Myths (1999); translated into French, Spanish, German, Russian, Korean, Polich, Japanese, Chinese, and Greek.

Signs of the Inka Khipu: Binary Coding in the Andean Knotted-String Records (2003); Signos del Khipu Inka:  Codigo Binario (2005).

Inka History in Knots: Reading Khipus as Primary Sources (2017); La Historia Inka en Nudos: Leyendo Khipus como fuentes primarias (2017).


A MacArthur Fellow (2001-2005) and recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (2014-15), Urton was the founder of the Khipu Database (KDB), a project which sought to decode the Inka knotted-string recording device, the khipu (or quipu). The construction of the KDB was supported by NSF research grants in 2002-03, 2003-04, 2006-07, and 2012-13.

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