Wednesday, 18 October, 2017

Indian Bakhshali manuscript rewrites history of zero symbol

Ancient Indian text pushes back history of zero by 500 years Carbon Dating Reveals the History of Zero Is Older Than Previously Thought
Melinda Barton | 17 September, 2017, 06:51

Researchers found that the ancient Indian Bakhshali manuscript, which contains hundreds of zeroes, dates from the third or fourth century AD, the Bodleian Libraries said in a report on Thursday.

The experiment, conducted by the University of Oxford, saw the using radiocarbon dating on the Bakhshali manuscript which revealed that it dates from as early as the 3 century, which is five centuries older tha nprevoiously estimated. A recent batch of carbon dating is causing the history of mathematics to be rewritten, as it has discovered zeros dating back to a period 500 years before previously seen.

The Bakhshali manuscript was found in 1881, buried in a field in a village called Bakhshali, near Peshawar, in what is now a region of Pakistan.

But the new carbon dating reveals that the manuscript, which consists of 70 fragile leaves of birch bark, is composed of material from at least three different periods.

Gwalior's inscription was earlier the oldest recorded example of zero, used as a placeholder in 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.

Professor Marcus Du Santoy of the University of Oxford said that the creation of zero was one of the "greatest breakthroughs" in mathmatics.

'The findings show how vibrant mathematics have been in the Indian sub-continent for centuries'.

These dots were not zeros like we think of the numeral today.

Since 1902, it has been housed in the Bodley Library at the University of Oxford.

Translations of the text, which is written in a form of Sanskrit, suggest it was a form of training manual for merchants trading across the Silk Road, and it includes practical arithmetic exercises and something approaching algebra. "But there was a moment when there wasn't this number".

"There's a lot of 'If someone buys this and sells this how much have they got left?"' said Du Sautoy. The first text to discuss zero in the numerical sense is the Indian astronomer Brahmagupta's work "Brahmasphutasiddhanta", which was written in A.D. 628.

"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? It is a popularly held belief that the idea of nirvana, which is the transcendent state of "nothingness" after liberation from desires and sufferings gave inspiration to the use of a symbol for zero or "nothing" in the temple wall. The dot was originally used as a "placeholder", meaning it was used to indicate orders of magnitude in a number system – for example, denoting 10s, 100s and 1000s.

The Science Museum of London will put the manuscript on display on October 4th as part of a larger exhibition, Illuminating India: 5000 Years of Science and Innovation.