via Scientific American, 28 July 2022: This piece, written by a pair of Southeast Asianists, recounts recent arguments about the earliest depiction of the number zero, most famously from Cambodia, but suggest that two inscriptions from Sumatra are the oldest known.
Sriwijaya was a major trading and maritime power controlling the sea lanes from Madagascar, across the Indian ocean, the Straits of Malacca, the whole of the South China Sea and on to the islands of the Philippines. Sriwijaya was also an early center of Buddhist teaching and proselytizing.
Archaeological explorations have uncovered a rich trove of Sriwijayan artifacts and records. Dutch colonial officers discovered three dated ceremonial stones with the historical numerals 605, 606 and 608, marking the years as reckoned from the Hindu Saka–era calendar. Translated into our Common Era chronological systems, those numerals would be: 683, 684 and 686.
The stones are named after the places of their discovery: Keduan Bukit, Talang Tuwo and Kota Kapur. These stones were polished and inscribed and probably intended for use in a ceremonial ritual, perhaps ablution, suggesting they originated in the seventh century. If correct, the existence of zero in the stones’ inscriptions predates the findings of the Gwalior Indian claim by two centuries!
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