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Ancient Indian Bakshali text contains earliest zero!

17 September 2017

The Bakhshali manuscript, consisting of 70 leaves of birch bark, comprises ancient text of mathematics and Sanskrit. Now a team of researchers at the University of Oxford and the Bodleian Libraries have carbon dated the manuscript and found that it dates from between the second and fourth centuries! The last discovery, "the Manuscript Bakhshali", gives every reason to believe that zero appeared 500 years earlier than thought before. It was found by a local farmer and was acquired by the Indologist AFR Hoernle, who presented it to the Bodleian Library in 1902, where it has been kept since.

The Bakhshali manuscript is now believed to date from the 3rd or 4th Century, which suggests the zero symbol has been in use hundreds of years earlier than previously thought. An ancient Indian text known as the Bakhshali manuscript containing the number zero in its earliest forms has been carbon dated by the Bodleian Library and is found to be dating back the to period between 224 AD and 383 AD.

'The findings show how vibrant mathematics have been in the Indian sub-continent for centuries'.

This dot would later evolve into the fully-fledged number zero.

Now scientists have traced the origins of this conceptual leap to an ancient Indian text, known as the Bakhshali manuscript - a text which has been housed in the United Kingdom since 1902. The concept of zero, initially banned as heresy, was eventually allowed for the development of calculus, and underpins the digital age.

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It was later acquired by indologist Rudolf Hoernle, who presented it to the Boldeian Libraries in 1902 and it has been housed i the United Kingdom ever since.

Bakshali manuscripts include practical arithmetic exercises and something approaching algebra.

In many ways, the moment when "nothing" became a number was a turning point in science and technology, marking a transition from dealing in the palpable to dealing with abstract concepts. "There's a lot of 'If someone buys this and sells this how much have they got left?'" said Marcus du Sautoy, professor of mathematics at University of Oxford.

According to the scientists, the dot was used as a "placeholder" to indicate orders of magnitude in a number system - for example, the zero denoting a lack of tens in 101. "It is a concern that we in this country today are not investing in the future and research seems to have taken a backseat", he added. It is a popularly held belief that the idea of nirvana, which is the transcendent state of "nothingness" after liberation from desires and sufferings gave inspiration to the use of a symbol for zero or "nothing" in the temple wall. But come October 4, this remarkable text will go on display at the Science Museum in London, as part of a major exhibition on scientific, technological and cultural breakthroughs in India.

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Ancient Indian Bakshali text contains earliest zero!