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Researchers from the University of Oxford conducted the first ever radiocarbon dating on the Bakhshali manuscript and revealed that it dates from as early as the 3rd century – five centuries older than previously believed.This means that the manuscript predates a 9th-century inscription of zero on the wall of a temple in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, which was thought to be the oldest example of a zero.Previous studies have suggested that Bakhshali manuscript dates from between the 8th and 12th century, based on the style of writing.But the new carbon dating reveals that the manuscript, which consists of 70 fragile leaves of birch bark, is composed of material from at least three different periods.

‘But the creation of zero as a number in its own right, which evolved from the placeholder dot symbol found in the Bakhshali manuscript, was one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of mathematics.Rather than being used on its own, the dot was used as a ‘placeholder’ to indicate orders of magnitude in a number system – for example, the zero denoting a lack of tens in 101.While the use of zero as a placeholder was seen in several different ancient cultures, including the Mayans, the researchers say the symbol in the Bakhshali manuscript it significant for two reasons.The couple lived in a modest, two-bedroom semi-detached house in a run-down street in St Anns, an impoverished suburb of the city.The house was cheap – rent was about £500 a month – but it also had the advantage of being close to East Midlands airport, which operates four flights a day on budget airlines to Ruzyne International Airport in Prague.

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