Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Date of Zero and Its Larger Consequences

The Bakhshali manuscript is now the oldest extant manuscript on Indian mathematics --  it has recently been carbon-dated by the University of Oxford to date to 200-400 AD.  That date is much older than previously thought, at least by five centuries, if not more.  This now supposedly pushes back the earliest recorded date for the use of zero in a place-value system.

Perhaps however, there is a larger point that is being missed.   E.g., as per Wiki, the Bakhshali manuscript "is written in an earlier form of Śāradā script, which was mainly in use from the 8th to the 12th century, in the northwestern part of India, such as Kashmir and neighbouring regions."

To me it seems that now the inferred dates of everything written in the Śāradā script may need to be reexamined. (e.g., Wiki again:  "The Śāradā or Sarada or Sharada script is an abugida writing system of the Brahmic family of scripts, developed around the 8th century.")   Even with the caveat that Wiki isn't the most reliable source of information, it seems to me that some non-trivial amount of history may need to be re-written.