How ancient Bakhshali manuscript of India revealed ‘real’ age of Zero: 10 points

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New Delhi | Published: September 19, 2017 4:00:41 PM

Carbon dating of ancient Bakhshali Manuscript has recorded the first use of zero, i.e 500 years earlier than previously thought. The manuscript which dates back to the third century, was found in 1881.

ZERO Bakhshali Manuscript, Bakhshali Manuscript has recorded the first use of zero 500 years earlier, University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries ZERO NEWS, Indian village called Bakhshali, now in PakistanCarbon dating of ancient Bakhshali Manuscript has recorded the first use of zero, i.e 500 years earlier than previously thought. (IE)

Carbon dating of ancient Bakhshali Manuscript has recorded the first use of zero, i.e 500 years earlier than previously thought. The manuscript which dates back to the third century, was found in 1881. The Manuscript was burried in a field of an ancient Indian village called Bakhshali, now in Pakistan. Since 1902, the document was stored in University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, according to PTI.

Here is what you need to know about the manuscript:

1. The manuscript consisted of 70 fragile leaves of birch bark, and was found buried in a field in Bakhshali village near Peshawar in 1881. A scholar had acquired it from the farmer, who unearthed it first. Later, the scholar presented it to Oxford university’s Bodleian Library in 1902. The manuscript contained hundreds of zeros — each of which is represented by a dot and serves as a placeholder, meaning it denotes 10s, 100s or 1,000s, according to the Indian Express.

2. Interestingly, the IE report said, other ancient civilisations too used symbols to denote zero as a placeholder, including the Babylonians 5,000 years ago, millennia before the Bakhshali Manuscript.

3. Marcus du Sautoy, Oxford professor of mathematics, has said, “it was the dot that we see in the Bakhshali Manuscript that went on to become the symbol that was first used for zero as a number in its own right,” as per IE.

4. The manuscript’s interest to mathematicians extends beyond the zeros. David Wells, a teacher-author in his book, The Penguin Book of Curious and Interesting Puzzles describes a puzzle from the manuscript. “Twenty men, women and children earn twenty coins between them. Each man earns 3 coins, each woman 1½ coins and each child ½ coin. How many men, women and children are there?” he wrote.

5. The Bakhshali Manuscript contains material from different periods. “It is actually composed of material from at least three dates, with some pages dating from as early as the 3rd to 4th century and others dating from the 8th and 10th centuries,” writes David Howell, head of heritage science at the Bodleian Libraries, according to IE.

6. According to the radiocarbon-dating results, Folio 16, which contains dots representing zeros, dates from 224-383 AD. That makes the manuscript at least five centuries older than previously thought, Bodleian Libraries said in a statement.

7. Researchers who cited two periods has put the manuscript’s age in context. It predates not only Brahmagupta’s 7th-century magnum opus but also a 9th-century inscription in Gwalior’s Chaturbhuj Temple.

8. Although Brahmagupta’s work was older than the inscription, “as far as we understand, there is no surviving document from 628 AD, only copies. Therefore, the Gwalior temple was the oldest surviving example of the use of the symbol for zero”, Bodleian’s press manager Rosie Burke told The Indian Express.

9. The Jain text Lokavibhaga, believed to have been written in 458 AD, was, until now, thought to contain the earliest known mention of zero as a numeral.

10. “We now know that it was mathematicians in India in 200-400 CE who planted the seed of the idea that would become so fundamental to the modern world,” writes Professor du Sautoy, the report said.

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