[INDOLOGY] Once again on the origin of zero: the date of the Bakhshali manuscript (or manuscripts?)

Camillo Formigatti camillo.formigatti at bodleian.ox.ac.uk
Thu Sep 14 07:45:56 EDT 2017


Dear Colleagues,

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

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/sep/14/much-ado-about-nothing-ancient-indian-text-contains-earliest-zero-symbol

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 follows:

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,

Camillo

________________________________

Dr Camillo A. Formigatti
John Clay Sanskrit Librarian

Bodleian Libraries
The Weston Library
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Email: camillo.formigatti at bodleian.ox.ac.uk<mailto:camillo.formigatti at bodleian.ox.ac.uk>
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