We commonly see it as a representation of "none" or a placeholder within a number. Where did zero come from anyway?

Was it always considered a number or did someone specifically discover it?

I decided to do some digging.

I read article after article and struggled to organize all of the information in a sequential, meaningful way. So here is a rough attempt to trace the history of zero.

According to Yale Global Online, the earliest form of zero was used by the Babylonians, around 2000 B.C., who used it as a placeholder in their numbers. They first represented an “empty” position with a space between their numbers. Eventually, they marked a place-holding zero with two slanted arrow-like symbols.

Thousands of years later, around 900 A.D., the Indians, chiefly a mathematician named Brahmagupta, acknowledged zero as a number rather than solely a placeholder. He introduced zero to the number system by placing dots under numerical symbols. He also wrote rules for doing math with zero. These rules, with the exception of dividing by zero, still hold true today. The Indians were the first to denote zero with the oval shape (0) that we now use in our number system.

The Indian number system and Brahmagupta’s work with zero was eventually introduced to Arabian mathematician Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khowarizmi. He conducted early forms of algebraic equations equaling zero as well as created algorithms for multiplication and division.

In 1202 the well-known Italian Fibonacci continued al-Khowarizmi’s work with zero, exposing more businessmen to it and its real-life usefulness. Later on, Rene Descartes made use of zero in his Cartesian coordinates, using (0,0) as the origin of his Cartesian plane.

Although this is a very general and unelaborated piece of writing, I did put in time and learn a lot of by researching this topic and plan to expand on the concept of zero in future work.

Sources:
  • http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/about/zero.jsp
  • http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/HistTopics/Zero.html


 


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