Bakhshali Manuscript: First recorded evidence of zero discovered – Pallava Bagla

Bakhshali Manuscript (ca. 3rd-4th century)

Pallava BaglaThe 3rd-4th-century Bakhshali Manuscript found near Taxila predates a 9th-century inscription of zero on the wall of a temple in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh – Pallava Bagla

A new carbon dating study commissioned on an ancient birch bark manuscript has found that the indispensable digit dates to as early as the 3rd or 4th century—approximately five centuries older than scholars previously believed.

The research was performed on the Bakhshali Manuscript, a mathematical document written on birch bark which was found close to ancient Taxila now near Peshawar in 1881. It has been housed in the University of Oxford since 1902.

The findings mean that the manuscript predates a 9th century inscription of zero on the wall of a temple in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, which was previously considered to be the oldest recorded example of a zero used as a placeholder in India, a report by Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries said.

The findings are highly significant for the study of the early history of mathematics, it added.

The report says the zero symbol that we use today evolved from a dot that was used in ancient India and can be seen throughout the Bakhshali Manuscript. The dot was originally used as a ‘placeholder’, meaning it was used to indicate orders of magnitude in a number system—for example, denoting 10s, 100s and 1000s.

BrahmaguptaWhile the use of zero as a placeholder was seen in several different ancient cultures, such as among the ancient Mayans and Babylonians, the symbol in the Bakhshali Manuscript is particularly significant for two reasons. Firstly, it is this dot that evolved to have a hollow centre and became the symbol that we use as zero today. Secondly, it was only in India that this zero developed into a number in its own right, hence creating the concept and the number zero that we understand today—this happened in 628 CE, just a few centuries after the Bakhshali Manuscript was produced, when the Indian astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta wrote a text called Brahmasphutasiddhanta, which is the first document to discuss zero as a number, the report said.

“Today we take it for granted that the concept of zero is used across the globe and is a key building block of the digital world. But the creation of zero as a number in its own right, which evolved from the placeholder dot symbol found in the Bakhshali Manuscript, was one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of mathematics,” said Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford. – NDTV, 14 September 2017

» Pallava Bagla is the science editor for NDTV, New Delhi.

Carbon dating machine at Oxford University

Advertisements

One Response

  1. Reblogged this on Voices and Visions.

Comments are moderated

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: