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How Old Is the Mathematical Symbol Zero?

The Indian astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta is often credited with writing the first text that used zero as a symbol in mathematical calculations, back in 628 AD. However, the recent carbon-dating results of an ancient text called the Bakhshali manuscript indicate that the concept of zero -- in the form of dot symbols -- was already being used centuries earlier. Researchers at the University of Oxford determined that some of the pages of the Bakhshali manuscript were inscribed between 224 A.D. and 383 A.D.

Nothing to see here:

  • The Bakhshali manuscript was unearthed in a farmer's field in 1881, in a peasant village that is now part of Pakistan. It is a mathematical text consisting of 70 leaves of birch bark.

  • The dot symbol was called shunya-bindu -- literally, "the dot of the empty place." It was used as a placeholder, noting the absence of value, such as distinguishing between 1, 10, and 100.

  • Other ancient cultures used similar placeholder symbols. The Babylonians used a double wedge in 5,000-year-old cuneiform symbols, and the Mayans used a shell to denote absence in their calendar system.

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More Info: University of Oxford

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