Three key elements -- a decimal base, place-value, and zero (I abbreviate
this to "DPZ") -- occurred separately at earlier times both in India
and in other parts of the ancient world. In particular, the Babylonians
were using a place-value system, with a space for the null value, in the
second millennium BC, but their base for counting was sixty, not ten. By
the time of Alexander the Great, they were even using a special symbol for
this null value. From perhaps as early as the third century AD the Mayans
also used place-value and zero, but with the base twenty. But it does
indeed seem to have been the Indians who first combined these key elements
together to form the basis of the arithmetic system that has come down to
the modern world.
I certainly agree that India was the first place where the decimal enunciation of numbers went so far as to give names to long series of powers of ten But, I would add the following remarks : 1° enunciation does not necessarily mean notation, so that one is still far away from a positional decimal system when one says "sahasrani sata dasha" instead of writing 1110; actually, in this example, the 1's are not enunciated and it is the names of the powers of ten that specify the value, not the position, and 2° it is only when the "1's" are enunciated, the "0" added and the names of the powers of ten dropped that we have a real positional decimal enunciation like 'one one one zero'. This happened in India in the first centuries AD, especially in the astronomical works named siddhantas, which enunciated 304, by instance, as tri sunya catur or as loka kha veda. By so doing, they replaced the numerals by number-words, so useful for metric (and thus verbal) facility, reminiscent of the numerals. And, even so, one cannot really ensure that the system was purely decimal for danta is sometimes used for 32 (and other single words for other two figures numbers).
Hoping this helps,
Lecturer on 'Science and Civilization in India - Sanskrit texts' at the IHEB (University of Brussels)
>To all listed Members and scholars in Indology,
> In course of my earnest study of Indology, ,I learnt that India of the Rig Vedic age was the first to innovate decimal system or place-value principle in Mathematics. Taitteriya Upanishads(one of the eleven Upanishads)have references of decimal system.In the "Shukla" version of Yajurveda , we find Medhatithi's verse in the Vajrasaneyi Samhita which speaks of the various powers of ten.Rigveda has evidences of writing 720 as "sapta satati vimsatih" or 1110 as "sahasrani sata dasha" Thus concepts like place -value , powers of ten dawned upon the Indians of the Rig Vedic age. while the romans could use upto 10 to the power 3 , and the greeks 10 to the power 4, it was quiet natural for the Rig vedic India to imagine 10 to the power 14.
> Rig vedic age existed between 1500 B.C.and 500 B.C.
> Can anyone enlighten me whether any other civilisation or age pre-dated the Rig Vedic India in innovating the Decimal system ?
> Thanking You
> ALAKENDU DAS