History of Mathematics
Story of Zero
224 Jan 1

Story of Zero


Ancient Egyptian numerals were of base 10. They used hieroglyphs for the digits and were not positional. By the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, the Babylonian mathematics had a sophisticated base 60 positional numeral system. The lack of a positional value (or zero) was indicated by a space between sexagesimal numerals. The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar developed in south-central Mexico and Central America required the use of zero as a placeholder within its vigesimal (base-20) positional numeral system.

The concept of zero as a written digit in the decimal place value notation was developed in India.[65] A symbol for zero, a large dot likely to be the precursor of the still-current hollow symbol, is used throughout the Bakhshali manuscript, a practical manual on arithmetic for merchants.[66] In 2017, three samples from the manuscript were shown by radiocarbon dating to come from three different centuries: from AD 224–383, AD 680–779, and AD 885–993, making it South Asia's oldest recorded use of the zero symbol. It is not known how the birch bark fragments from different centuries forming the manuscript came to be packaged together.[67] Rules governing the use of zero appeared in Brahmagupta's Brahmasputha Siddhanta (7th century), which states the sum of zero with itself as zero, and incorrectly division by zero as:

A positive or negative number when divided by zero is a fraction with the zero as denominator. Zero divided by a negative or positive number is either zero or is expressed as a fraction with zero as numerator and the finite quantity as denominator. Zero divided by zero is zero.