Subject: math history
Name: jason
Who is asking: Student
Level: All

Question: What civilization first used zero?

Hi Jason,

One of the best places to look for an answer to this type of history question is Earliest Uses of Various Mathematical Symbols. Under "Symbols for various constants, such as pi, i, e, 0" is the statement

The book Archaic Bookkeeping by Hans J. Nissen, Peter Damerow and Robert K. Englund (University of Chicago Press, 1993) shows as figure 128 on page 150 an Old Babylonian school text tablet, demonstrating a repeated multiplication with the sexagesimal number 1 40 (our decimal 100). On its sixth line there is one employment of the Babylonian symbol for zero (two wedges placed diagonally). The authors note that "...the zero should have been noted for the first time." The number noted (in sexagesimal) is: 21 26 0 29 37 46 40. Note that the zero is in a intermediate position. The tablet is from Old Babylonian period, c. 1800 BC. Manoel de Campos Almeida, who provided this website with this information, writes that this use of a symbol for zero is more than a millennium older than other examples of the Seleucid period. He writes that this could be one of the earliest (if not the earliest) known use of a symbol for the zero. Cheers,

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