Oldest zero?

The Bodleian Library of Oxford has housed the famous Bakhshali manuscript since 1902, and there has been speculation about just how old it is. It contains an early representation of the “0” as a dot–the same depiction of zero as found in k-127. We haven’t known just how old the Bakhshali and dating it is complicated as it is written on birch bark from 3 different periods. Recent carbon dating places it to 224-383 CE. Does this make it the oldest known representation of zero? The Khmer zero dates to 683 CE. We know that because the zero is part of a date recorded on this stele–no need for carbon dating!! There is also an inscription found at Gwalior fort in India containing zero represented by a circle that has been dated to 875/6 CE. There are lots of mentions of the Gwalior zero as the previous “oldest” zero–but we assert that the Khmer zero in k-127 is older. We are thrilled, though, that the new dating of the Bakhshali manuscript is throwing light on zero: where did it originate and how did it move through the world to assume worldwide importance in mathematics? We hope that this mathematical mystery will inspire a new generation to pursue the joys of math!

Bakhshali manuscript carbonated

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