New Delhi: The origin of the concept of zero or sunya has been traced an ancient Indian Bakhshali manuscript.

Radiocarbon dating, conducted by the University of Oxford, reveals that the manuscript belongs to 3rd or 4th century – nearly 500 years before scholars previously believed was the birth of the concept of zero. This makes the Bakhshali manuscript world’s oldest recorded origin of the zero symbol.

Indians were the first to give a numerical sign to nothingness – zero, or sunya, making it the one biggest breakthrough in the history of mathematics and science.

In the fragile manuscript, zero is not been mentioned as a number, but acts as the placeholder in a number system, such as the “0” in “101” or “1100”.

“The Bakhshali manuscript is an ancient Indian mathematical manuscript written on more than 70 leaves of birch bark, found in 1881. It is notable for having a dot representing zero in it,” states the University of Oxford.

Discovered in 1881, the ancient script is an Indian mathematical manuscript, written on 70 pieces of birch bark. It is in an ancient form of Sanskrit and has been at the Oxford University since 1902.

The script has several numbers written on it.


Marcus du Sautoy, professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, says that the manuscript is “a practical document used by merchants to do calculations.”

“I visited a temple in Gwalior which has a zero marked on the wall, dating to the middle of the 9th century AD,” he adds. But the document is nearly 500 years older than that.

“Today we take it for granted that the concept of zero is used across the globe and our whole digital world is based on nothing or something. But there was a moment when there wasn’t this number,” says Sautoy.

“This is a total revolution that happens out of India,” he adds.

“This is coming out of a culture that is quite happy to conceive of the void, to conceive of the infinite. The idea of the symbol of nothing is a part of their philosophical culture,” says Du Sautoy.

“And that is exciting to recognise,” he adds.

The Bakhshali manuscript will be on public display in the exhibition – ‘Illuminating India: 5000 Years of Science’ – at the Science Museum in London from October 4.