Sabine Hyland

Sabine Hyland

Fellow: Awarded 2018
Field of Study: Anthropology and Cultural Studies

Competition: US & Canada

For over ten years, Sabine Hyland has collaborated with elders in remote Andean villages to discover new insights into how native Peruvians communicated through 3D coloured cords known as “khipus“. Her research has uncovered isolated communities where khipus — once thought to have been wiped out during the European invasion in the 1500s — were used within living memory. The Inkas kept their accounts, histories, and sacred knowledge on khipus; if we could decipher these knotted cords, we could gain an insider’s view into their extraordinary empire. Hyland’s work has demonstrated, among other things, that khipus signified meaning partially through the tactile feel of different animal fibres and the twist of knots and thread, suggesting an indigenous epistemology in which the sense of touch plays as vital a role as sight.

Scientific American, National Geographic, the BBC, the Times, the Discover Channel (TV) and other media outlets have covered Hyland’s work. An anthropologist at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, she began her research career when she was an undergraduate at Cornell University, where she read Anthropology and studied the Andean language, Quechua. She earned her PhD from Yale University, supervised by Richard Burger and Mike Coe. Since then, the NEH, the NSF, the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, the National Geographic Society and the Leverhulme Trust have supported her varied projects, resulting in four books and numerous articles. Her most recent book, The Chankas and the Priest: A Tale of Murder and Exile in Highland Peru (2016) has been hailed as “a mesmerising microhistory” (Hispanic American Historical Review 2018) “revealing a world rich in complexity, human dilemmas, and transformations” (American Historical Review 2017). In 2015 the National Geographic Society selected her as a “National Geographic Explorer” in recognition of her contributions to South American anthropology.

Scientific American magazine article on Sabine Hyland’s research
National Geographic article: ‘Discovery May Help Decipher Ancient Inca String Code’

Profile photograph by William P. Hyland

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