[INDOLOGY] Fwd: Auto-discard notification

Dominik Wujastyk wujastyk at gmail.com
Sun Sep 17 21:52:46 UTC 2017

For technical reasons, Agathe Keller's posts on the Bakhshali discussion
were not circulated to the INDOLOGY list at large.  I will post them in
this and the next emails.

Dominik Wujastyk, INDOLOGY committee member.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Agathe Keller <kelleragathe600 at gmail.com>
To: Karine Chemla <chemla at univ-paris-diderot.fr>
Cc: Indology List <indology at list.indology.info>
Date: Fri, 15 Sep 2017 07:12:25 +0200
Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] Once again on the origin of zero: the date of the
Bakhshali manuscript (or manuscripts?)
Dear all, Dear Camillo,

Concerning the use of a small circle to denote an empty space, and thus
zero in the decimal place value notation. Takao Hayashi in his reference
study of the text more than twenty years ago (*The Bakhshālī Manuscript: An
Ancient Indian Mathematical Treatise *Egbert Forsten, 1995) wrote on p. 89:

A dot (•) is used for denoting a vacant place both in the decimal notation
and in the ‘Statement’ or the tabular presentation of numerical data in the
BM: in the former case it stands for a cipher, and in the latter for an
unknwon number.

So nothing is new here, despite what seems to claim Marcus du Sautoy in the
video associated with the article.

I think we would all like to know if indeed, it is possible to date and
analyze the ink used on the birch bark. Just to be sure also that we get
the information you are providing us right, is it that according to your
study folio 16 would be almost certainly from a date ranging in between 224
and 383 of the CE while folio 17 and 33 would be of much later date? Can
you tell us just a bit more about what is a calibrated age and a confidence


Agathe Keller

On 15 Sep 2017, at 02:41, Andrea Acri via INDOLOGY <
indology at list.indology.info> wrote:

Dear Camillo

thank you for sharing this news, and especially for your (in)valuable work
on this most important document. Let me point out at the very outset that
all I know about this manuscript derives from the Guardian article and
Wikipedia (disclaimer: I have no access to a library right now!), so please
forgive me for being so naive.

If the manuscript (however fragmentary it may be) is thought to contain a
single, unitary text, then the date of its copying (and/or composition?)
must be the 9th-10th century. I fail to see what is so sensational about
this apart from the fact that it shows how writing supports that were
centuries older might have been (re)utilized.  (By the way: is an analysis
of the ink technically possible?). The earliest attestation of the written
zero would still be the 8th-century Southeast Asian inscriptions (and not
the Gwalior temple, as incorrectly reported in the article).

But in your message, when you speak about different stratas and tables of
ak.saras, you clearly imply that this/these manuscript(s) contain(s) a
composite/heterogeneous text indeed, and that part of it might date back to
the 3rd-4th century. May I ask you to anticipate/synthesize some of your
key findings here, or at least clarify this point? And, what is the
relationship between folios 16 and 17? Do all these folios contain the 0?

Further: I'm not steeped in mathematics either, so I fail to grasp the full
implications of this statement (especially the second sentence):

"In the fragile document, zero does not yet feature as a number in its own
right, but as a placeholder in a number system, just as the “0” in “101”
indicates no tens. It features a problem to which the answer is zero, but
here the answer is left blank".

Hopefully some of our learned colleagues will be able to clarify this point.

Best regards

Andrea Acri

Sent from my iPhone

On 14 Sep 2017, at 17:15, Camillo Formigatti via INDOLOGY <
indology at list.indology.info> wrote:

Dear Colleagues,

I’m pleased to be finally able to share this exciting news with you:


I imagine that some of you might probably raise their eyebrows after
reading this article. The results came as a big surprise to us too, and to
me were literally jaw-dropping. I realize that these results have several
implications not only for the history of mathematics, but also for our
field of study, and I know that the article in The Guardian surely doesn’t
answer the many questions you might be asking yourselves now. I will try to
briefly anticipate some of them.

The decision and implementation of radiocarbon dating the Bakhshali
manuscript took several months of preparation on the part of the team of
colleagues with which I collaborated. The team included colleagues from the
Bodleian Libraries and other University of Oxford departments: David Howell
(Bodleian Libraries’ Head of Heritage Science), Dr Gillian Evison (Head of
the Bodleian Libraries' Oriental Section & Indian Institute Librarian),
Virginia M Lladó-Buisán (Bodleian Libraries’ Head of Conservation and
Collection Care), Dr David Chivall (Chemistry Laboratory Manager at the
School of Archaeology of the University of Oxford), and Prof. Marcus du
Sautoy (Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science
and Professor of Mathematics at the Oxford University). We decided to take
samples from three folios in order to be sure to have a sensible margin of
certainty for the results. I chose folios 16, 17, and 33, and the analysis
was conducted by Dr Chivall at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit. The
results of the calibrated age (95.4% confidence interval / cal AD) are as

Folio 16:               224 (95.4%) 383calAD

Folio 17:               680 (74.8%) 779calAD

790 (20.6%) 868calAD

Folio 33:               885 (95.4%) 993calAD

We did not expect such a big difference in the date range of the three
folios. I am currently preparing an article in which I provide the
background for the choice of these three specific folios, tables of all
akṣaras from the three folios as an aid to assign the extant folios to the
different strata of the manuscript (including selected aksaras of other
dated and undated manuscripts in similar scripts for comparison), and a
first palaeographical appraisal of the results.

Best wishes,



Dr Camillo A. Formigatti

John Clay Sanskrit Librarian

Bodleian Libraries

The Weston Library

Broad Street, Oxford


Email: camillo.formigatti at bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Tel. (office): 01865 <01%20865> (2)77208


in Oxford University’s

Gardens, Libraries and Museums


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