History of Zero

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Zero is a unique number that means “empty space” and that which represents a number and its use for computation. It was conceived from the Hindus from India. The earliest recorded evidence was found on the Gvalior inscription, however, the zero we are accustomed to today, came much later.

Zero has two basic uses: to mean empty space or to represent a number used for computation. It is especially important in positional notations. Positional notations, is a numerical system in which each position is related to the next by a constant multiplier (ex. 10). Positional notations require an indication of the number zero because zero is a placeholder. It allows us to tell the different between 23, 203, and 230. Without zero, it would be impossible to tell them apart. The decimal system, for example, uses 10 as a base, and zero is required for 10 to be the base. Otherwise, it would just be a “1”.

According to records, Babylonians were the first to use symbols for numbers. They used wedge-shaped symbols and the sexagesimal base system which dated back to over 4000 years ago. There was, however, no symbol for indicating an empty position. There are a few occasions in their system when an empty position is needed, and the early Babylonians relied on context to make clear the value of the number system written. The Egyptians also used a symbolic number system but their system was not positional thus it does not use or required zero to prevent misinterpreting the value. The Native North Americans used a numeration system of various bases; however, there is no indication of place values or use of zero. The Mayans of Central America and southern Mexico used a positional, vigesimal system. They showed the number zero in the symbol shaped like a half-closed eye which was found in early calendars. The Incas of Peru uses a decimal system that uses different types of knots as well a position of knots to indicate value. The Incans showed zero by indicating a gap between sets...
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