Nowt, nada, zilch, void – there was nothing intriguing about nothingness, until it became ZERO and Kaboom! Everything changed when nothing became a number itself and is still considered as one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of mathematics. But it gets even more intense when you find out that zero actually originated 500 years earlier than we thought it did! That’s what has just happened.

Zero is zero, like eh whatever. But not so much, imagine this world without zero – it will almost make us cavemen who had no idea how to make calculations. Especially our digital world, which is absolutely dependent on binary digits would perish irreversibly, if zero is removed. That is how important the number of nothingness is, I mean how would you even represent nothing? (that sounds like Zen koan) But to be honest, if we had never known about the idea of zero, then it would be a little mind-bending to imagine what nothing ought to look like. In fact, Europeans had a hard time digesting the idea of zero when it was new (haha!). But we can’t deny about its usefulness and that is why it has been embraced so well since years.

About the history of zero, the oldest known example of ‘zero’ as number was located in some scriptural inscriptions at a temple in Madhya Pradesh of India which dated to 9th century but then recently another dot emerged from Cambodia which dated to 7th century. That was a 200-year jump. However, recently a fragment of Bakhshali manuscript which was held by Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford was carbon dated and that turned out to be the oldest piece of single copy of mathematical text which belonged to 224 to 383 AD! The manuscript was a part of Bakshali civilisation which was a part of ancient India and is now in Pakistan. And that script contained ‘zeros’! A lot of them!

The script was littered with hundreds of solid black dots representing zeros and was likely to be used by merchants or traders who required reference as daily trading across the Silk Road. Translating the text from ancient Sanskrit, it included practical arithmetic exercises and something approaching algebra. There was a lot of calculation like – if somebody buys this and sells this, what would be left? So naturally there were cases when they would be left with nothing – hence the solid black dots, so it wasn’t exactly a number but it was more of a placeholder, yet that counts. So that is it about nothing.