Sunday, April 04, 2010

Early Indian MS evidence for "zero"

Early Indian document with ref. to zero

The Bakhsālī manuscript was unearthed by a peasant in 1881 in the village of Bakhshālī about eighty kilometers north-east of Peshawar. The scribe wrote it in the Śāradā script on birch-bark using a pen with a flat, rectangular tip. The most recent research shows that this is the earliest Śāradā manuscript ever discovered, and suggests that it may be datable to as early as AD 700, although a date of 1200 has been proposed in the past. The mathematical work recorded in the manuscript is probably from the seventh century, and appears to have been composed in the Gandhāra
district. The manuscript describes the foundations of arithmetic, including approximations of square roots, rules of inversion and proportion, the rule of three, various forms of equations, and a series of example problems on fiscal, taxation, travel, and geometrical topics (Hayashi 1995). It also uses a dot to symbolize zero, possibly making it the earliest written occurrence of this sign in India.

T Hayashi, The Bakhshali manuscript : An ancient Indian mathematical treatise (Groningen, 1995).

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