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 found to contain hundreds of zeroes, and the landmark finding puts the birth of "zero" or "nought" as it is also known, at 500 years earlier than scholars first thought.
The Bakhshali manuscript was discovered by a farmer in the village of Bakshali in 1881, that area is now Pakistan. The manuscript was named after the village and has been kept in Oxford University's library since 1902.
The Bakshali manuscript, which revealed the first use of symbol zero is now believed to date from the 3rd or 4th century, making it 500 year older than previously thought, United Kingdom media reported.
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The zero symbol that we use today evolved from a dot that can be seen throughout the Bakhshali manuscript.
"Today we take it for granted that the concept of zero is used across the globe and is a key building block of the digital world", says Marcus du Sautoy, a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, according to the press release. Their findings show that we were far off the mark in estimating the text's date of origin - hailing from somewhere between 224AD and 383AD instead of the commonly-assumed 9th century (801-900AD) - with deep implications for the history of mathematics.
These dots were not zeros like we think of the numeral today.
The translation of text has revealed that it was actually a form of a training manual for merchants trading across the Silk Road. "There's a lot of 'If someone buys this and sells this how much have they got left?'"
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Indian thinkers were not the first to deploy placeholders; Babylonians and Mayans also used symbols to denote the absence of a value. The most authoritative academic study on the manuscript, conducted by Japanese scholar Dr Hayashi Takao, asserted that it probably dated from between the 8th and the 12th century, based on factors such as the style of writing and the literary and mathematical content. But there was a moment when there wasn't this number, " The Guardian reported.
The use of zero is incredibly important in the development of mathematics, physics and technology.
However, zero doesn't feature as a number in this script but as a placeholder in a number system, just as the "0" in "101" indicates no tens.
A folio from the Bakhshali manuscript will go on public display at the Science Museum in London as a centrepiece of the major exhibition Illuminating India: 5000 Years of Science and Innovation, opening 4 October 2017.
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