There is no doubt about the popularity and/or familiarity of number zero but its origin certainly seems to be far from certain. In a recent batch of carbon dating by the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford, it has been concluded that the history of zero is actually 500 years older than it has been considered to be all this while. An ancient Indian text known as the Bakhshali manuscript containing the number zero in its earliest forms has been carbon dated by the Bodleian Library and is found to be dating back the to period between 224 AD and 383 AD. Earlier, it was thought that the manuscript belongs to the 9th century.
The ancient script was discovered by a farmer of village Bakhshali, now in Pakistan, in 1881 and was named after the name of the village. Since 1902, the script is housed in the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford.
As revealed by carbon dating, the script belongs to a period 500 years earlier than the time when zero is believed to have originated. Until now, the oldest recorded use of zero was found on the walls of a temple in Gwalior which is believed to belong to the 9th century.
The Bakhshali manuscript, consisting of 70 leaves of birch bark, comprises ancient text of mathematics and Sanskrit. The Times of India reports Marcus du Sautoy of the University of Oxford saying that the manuscript seems to be a training manual for Buddhist monks.
Marcus du Sautoy also said,
Some of these ideas that we take for granted had to be dreamt up. Numbers were there to count things, so if there is nothing there why would you need a number? The whole of modern technology is built on the idea of something and nothing.
A leaf from the Bakhshali Manuscript, showing off Indian mathematical genius. A zero symbol has been highlighted in the second image. pic.twitter.com/65iZpEVkld
— Bodleian Libraries (@bodleianlibs) September 14, 2017
Along with the text, it has hundreds of zeroes denoted by a dot (as in the image). Originally, the dot was denoted as a placeholder the way it is used in a number like 608 to mean that there are no tens and was not a number in its own right.
Here is the video of Marcus du Sautoy talking about the ancient Bakhshali script and the zeroes contained therein: