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'Zero' May Be 500 Years Older Than Believed, Reveals Ancient Indian Text

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| September 15 , 2017 , 07:47 IST

India is famous for the discovery of 'zero' or '0' which is an essential part of the mathematics system, however, according to recent carbon dating tests of an ancient Indian text, the discovery of zero may be 500 years older than currently believed.

An ancient Indian text Bakhshali manuscript, which is written on 70 leaves of birch bark in Sanskrit and is filled with mathematics has been carbon dated to be 500 years before the origin of zero.

"It seems to be a training manual for Buddhist monks," said Marcus du Sautoy at the University of Oxford.

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In 1881, the manuscript was discovered by a local farmer in the village Bakhshali and was named after the village it was found in, which is now in Pakistan, and has been kept in the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library since 1902.

Originally, the manuscript was believed to have been from the 9th century, but recent carbon dating has revealed that the oldest pages of the Bakhshali manuscript date back to sometime between 224 AD and 383 AD. Previously, an inscription of zero on the wall of a temple in Gwalior dated to 9th century had been believed to be the first recorded example of zero.

In the Bakhshali manuscript, there are hundreds of examples of zero which has been denoted by a dot, which later evolved to the symbol of zero known today. Initially, the dot was used as a placeholder, to refer to the absence of a count, for example in 505 the 0 indicates that there are no tens, but was not used as an independent number. Although the use of zero as a placeholder was evident in many ancient cultures including the Babylonians and the Mayans, the Indian dot evolved to gain full number status.

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"Some of these ideas that we take for granted had to be dreamt up. Numbers were there to count things, so if there is nothing there why would you need a number?" said du Sautoy.

Initially banned as heresy, the concept of zero was finally allowed to develop calculus and has now become an integral part of the digital age, especially its use in binary coding.

"The whole of modern technology is built on the idea of something and nothing," du Sautoy said.