Bakhshali Manuscript: How Old is Zero? 500 Years Older Than Previously Believed (Download PDF)


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Scientists traced the origins to zero considered as greatest breakthroughs in the history of mathematics to an ancient Indian text- Bakhshali manuscript. Bakhshali manuscript was housed in the UK since 1902.

Image of Bakhshali Manuscript

Image of Bakhshali Manuscript

Image of Bakhshali Manuscript

  • Bakhshali manuscript was written in 3rd or 4th century- thus origin of zero is 500 years older than scholars previously believed.

  • The manuscript also has world’s oldest recorded origin of the zero symbol used today.

  • Marcus du Sautoy, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford said that “Today we take it for granted that the concept of zero is used across the globe and our whole digital world is based on nothing or something. But there was a moment when there wasn’t this number. ”

Bakhshali Manuscript

  • The Bodleian Library in Oxford acquired the Bakhshali manuscript from a local farmer who had buried it in a field in Bakhshali, near Peshawar.

  • The translation revealed that it was a training manual for merchants trading across the Silk Road.

Details on Zero

  • Zero does not feature as a umber in this script but as a placeholder in a number system, just as the ‘0’ in ‘101’ indicates no tens.

  • Zero appeared in the Bakhshali script ultimately evolved into the hollow-centre version used today.

  • Final use of zero as a number was first described in Brahmasphutasiddhanta, written by the Indian astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta in 628AD.

Importance of Zero

  • Zero is very important for its place-holding value.

  • Number like two hundred four is written that there are no tens with the help of zero (204 vs 24, which is completely different number).

- Published/Last Modified on: September 28, 2017


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