General Science, Mathematics, and Technology


When was a symbol for the concept of zero first used?

Surprisingly, the symbol for zero emerged later than the concept for the other numbers. Although the Babylonians (600B.C.E. and earlier) had a symbol for zero, it was merely a placeholder and not used for computational purposes. The ancient Greeks conceived of logic and geometry, concepts providing the foundation for all mathematics, yet they never had a symbol for zero. The Maya also had a symbol for zero as a placeholder in the fourth century, but they also did not use zero in computations. Hindu mathematicians are usually given credit for developing a symbol for the concept “zero.” They recognized zero as representing the absence of quantity and developed its use in mathematical calculations. It appears in an inscription at Gwalior dated 870C.E. However, it is found even earlier than that in inscriptions dating from the seventh century in Cambodia, Sumatra, and Bangka Island (off the coast of Sumatra). Although there is no documented evidence in printed material for the zero in China before 1247, some historians maintain that there was a blank space on the Chinese counting board, representing zero, as early as the fourth century B.C.E.


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