One of the earliest uses of ‘0’ found in Cambodia

Inscription K-127. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20140809

A mathematician is on the trail of the earliest known use of the numerical zero in writing, and which is quite possibly found on the K-127 inscription.

Inscription K-127. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20140809
Inscription K-127. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20140809

Did ancient Cambodians invent the zero?
Phnom Penh Post, 09 August 2014

A little way outside Siem Reap, a few sheds and a makeshift office house thousands of ancient relics rarely seen by the millions who pass through the city to see the temples each year. On the ground at the Conservation d’Angkor Centre lie broken Buddha statues and severed stone heads – a Jayavarman VII here, a dusty linga there. Last year, on the January morning that Amir Aczel arrived, the place was empty.

The sixty-something American, a mathematician and author, had come to search for the evidence he had chased for the previous five years: an ancient stone slab on which was inscribed what he believed to be the first numeric zero ever recorded.

Between his fingers Aczel gripped the pencil rubbings and documents he believes prove that Cambodians were among the first people on earth – before the Europeans and Arabs – to use 0 to signify nothingness. Not even the Romans had invented such an advanced system as the one, illustrated by a stone marked “K-127”, that was somewhere in that room.

Full story here.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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