Abstract Neuroimaging studies of numerical cognition have pointed to the horizontal segment of the intraparietal sulcus (hIPS) as the neural correlate of numerical representations in humans. However, the specificity of hIPS for numbers remains controversial. For example, its activation during numerical comparison cannot be distinguished from activation during ordinal judgments on non-numerical sequences such as letters (Fias et al., 2007, J. Neuroscience). Based on the hypothesis that the fine-grained distinction between representations of numerical vs. letter order in hIPS might simply be invisible to conventional fMRI data analysis, we used support vector machines (SVM) to reanalyse the data of Fias et al. (2007). We show that classifiers trained on hIPS voxels can discriminate between number comparison and letter comparison, even though the two tasks produce the same metric of behaviour. Voxels discriminating between the two conditions were consistent across subjects and contribution analysis revealed maps of distinct sets of voxels implicated in the processing of numerical vs. alphabetical order in bilateral hIPS. These results reconcile the neuroimaging data with the neuropsychological evidence suggesting dissociations between numbers and other non-numerical ordered sequences, and demonstrate that multivariate analyses are fundamental to address fine-grained theoretical issues with fMRI studies.