IT IS a discovery to make Indiana Jones’s hat spin and could shed new light on a disappeared South American civilisation.

The “lost” texts of the Incas have been partially deciphered by an anthropologist at St Andrews University.

Dr Sabine Hyland has been able to translate some of the names recorded on “khipus”, the twisted cords of coloured animal hair used by the Inkas rather than ink and paper.

The discovery opens up the possibility of decoding more of the string writing, which would dramatically increase the current understanding of the civilization, which was the largest indigenous empire of the Americas.

It was already known that khipus were used to record numbers, but Hyland has now established their use in a logosyllabic system similar to Classic Mayan, with each pendant cord representing a phonetic syllable.

The breakthrough came after examination of materials kept by residents of the remote San Juan de Collata village in the Peruvian Andes in work funded by the National Geographic Society.

Village authorities invited Hyland to examine their khipus, which were created in the 18th century as letters exchanged by local leaders in a revolt against Spanish authority, and are the only Andean phonetic khipus ever identified. The system uses differences in animal fibres, such as vicuna, alpaca and deer, to indicate meaning through texture.