Re­searchers: Black dot on In­dian scroll is first zero

The Star Malaysia - - World -

Lon­don: A black dot on a third-cen­tury In­dian man­u­script has been iden­ti­fied by Ox­ford Univer­sity as the first recorded use of the math­e­mat­i­cal sym­bol for zero, 500 years ear­lier than pre­vi­ously thought.

“Sci­en­tists from the Univer­sity of Ox­ford’s Bodleian Li­braries, have used car­bon dat­ing to trace the fig­ure’s ori­gins to the fa­mous an­cient In­dian scroll,” the univer­sity said.

The birch bark scroll is known as the Bakhshali man­u­script af­ter the vil­lage, which is now in Pak­istan, where it was found buried in 1881.

It has been held at the Bodleian Li­braries since 1902.

“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, a math­e­mat­ics pro­fes­sor at Ox­ford.

“We now know that it was as early as the third cen­tury that math­e­ma­ti­cians in In­dia planted the seed of the idea that would later become so fun­da­men­tal to the mod­ern world,” he said.

The Bakhshali scroll was al­ready recog­nised as the old­est In­dian math­e­mat­i­cal text but its ex­act age was widely con­tested, and re­searchers used car­bon dat­ing to trace it back to the third or fourth cen­tury.

The text was in fact found to con­tain hun­dreds of ze­roes, rep­re­sent­ing or­ders of mag­ni­tude in the an­cient In­dian num­bers sys­tem.

The ear­li­est recorded ex­am­ple of the use of zero was pre­vi­ously be­lieved to be a ninth-cen­tury in­scrip­tion on a wall at a tem­ple in Gwalior, In­dia.

Sev­eral an­cient cul­tures, in­clud­ing the Mayans and the Baby­lo­ni­ans, used the zero place­holder but the dot used in an­cient In­dian math­e­mat­ics is the one that ul­ti­mately evolved into the sym­bol used to­day.

Li­brar­ian Richard Oven­den said the dis­cov­ery was of “vi­tal im­por­tance to the his­tory of math­e­mat­ics and the study of early South Asian cul­ture”.

“These sur­pris­ing re­search re­sults tes­tify to the sub­con­ti­nent’s rich and long­stand­ing sci­en­tific tra­di­tion,” he said.

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