who invented zero

Who invented zero? This is a question that has been asked by many mathematicians over the years. There have been various answers to this question but no one is absolutely sure of who invented zero. However, this is not the only perplexing question about zero. The other one is  ‘Was zero invented or was zero discovered?’ While it is quite true that humans, in developing mathematics over time, found zero useful as a placeholder, but as a void, however, zero has been around since the beginning of time.

With regards to the first question, the Bakhshali Manuscript which was found in Kashmir in 1881 appears to show that zero was used as a placeholder as early as the third or fourth century A.D. Prior to the discovery of the Bakhshali Manuscript, it was believed that zero was developed in or around the seventh century A.D.

The truth is, however, that there are those who believe that zero as a placeholder was developed by several different cultures independently. These include the Sumerian, the Babylonians, the Mayans, the Indians, the Chinese, and the Arabs.

The following is a brief discussion of what took place in each of the cultures referred to above.

The Sumerians: There is some evidence that the idea of a placeholder dates back to ancient Mesopotamia where Sumerian scribes, about 5000 years ago, used spaces to denote absences in number columns.

The Babylonians: The first recorded use of a zero-like symbol dates back to around the third century B.C. The Babylonians had developed a special symbol, two small wedges, which were used in the very same way that our modern-day zero is used, (1) as a placeholder and (2) to distinguish between magnitudes of numbers. However, when the Greeks captured the Babylonian Empire in 331 B.C. they changed the symbol of two wedges into a small circle very much like the one we use today to represent degrees.

The Mayans: Sometime around the year 350 A.D. the Mayans started using a symbol in their calendar somewhat similar to our present day zero. It became an integral part of their numeral system. Although the Mayans are considered to be skilled mathematicians they somehow never used zero in their equations.

The Indians: It was originally believed that zero’s importance was not realized until the seventh century A.D. At that time, Brahmagupta, the famous Indian mathematician, used small dots under numbers to show a zero placeholder. But the carbon dating of the Bakhshali Manuscript seems to indicate that the Indians were using zero as a number at least five hundred years prior.

The Chinese: Although it is argued by some historians of mathematics that zero moved from India to China sometime around the seventh century, the Chinese did leave an empty space in their counting-rod system. This was their representation of the idea of a spaceholder.

The Arabs: Around the year 773 A.D., the Persian mathematician Abu Ja’far Mohammed ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi showed how zero could function in algebraic equations by setting everything equal to zero. He found how to use zero as a placeholder between – 1 and 1 (-1, 0, 1). Thereby upgrading zero from a mere placeholder to a noble numeral just like the other numerals. This single act completely changed the course of mathematics.

As for the second question, one may say that the symbol, zero was invented for use as a placeholder and later, as we have seen, a numeral. However, zero, the void was in fact a discovery as it was around since eternity.

In conclusion then, it is safe to say that to date there is no definite answer to the question posed in the title of this post.

What do you think? I will be very happy to get feedback from you because,

I am nuts about zero!!!!