The History of Zero--Asian Pacific American Heritage Blog Series and Giveaway Post

This post is part of the Asian-Pacific American Heritage Blog Series and Giveaway on Multicultural Kid Blogs. You can enter the giveaway at the end of the post. There is a link party for all Asian-Pacific American Heritage posts on Multicultural Kid Blogs. We also have a link party for Japan posts in our Global Learning for Kids this month. Next month will be India.

History of Zero:

Can you imagine a world without zero? Or perhaps you wonder why we need to represent nothing at all? For centuries there was no mark or symbol of zero. The history of the number zero begins in Asia. It is believed that the first people to have a symbol for zero were the Babylonians. The Babylonians had inherited the counting system of the Sumerians which was the first to have a symbol instead of hash marks for each number.
Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia c. 1450 BC
Around 1450 B.C. By Свифт/Svift (my work) 
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Babylonians added a symbol to stand for zero. These civilizations used their number systems to count cattle, etc.They also developed a place value system similar to ours. However the Babylonian number system was not shared and "died" with the civilization. The Ancient Greeks learned their mathematics from Egypt and their number system did not have a place holder like zero or a need for it. There is no evidence of any zero existing. However around 350 A.D. the Mayans developed a place-holder version of zero. However it died with the Mayan Empire and was not introduced to anyone else.

Bakhshali numerals 2
Numerals from the Bakhshali Manuscript By Augustus Hoernle (1841-1918)
[Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Indians however began to understand zero and its importance. The oldest Hindu mathematical manuscript found is the Bakhshali Manuscript. It is believed to be from somewhere between 2 B.C. and 3 A.D. In 499 A.D. Aryabhata wrote his treatise that is called Aryabhatiya. In this work it was clear that he was using a place-value system although he did not show a symbol for zero. A place-value system requires a place holder (which we use zero) to write a number like 103 differently from 13. Around 650 A.D. Brahmagupta was the first to formalize arithmetic operations with zero. He wrote rules for them. The only error in his rules was the division of zero. As any mathematician can tell you today that you cannot divide by zero. I always used the example of a bag of candy being divided among zero friends. It just doesn't make sense. 
Brahmagupta By anonymus [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons

The Hindu ideas reached China by 800 A.D. At that time the Chinese were using a place-value system, however did not have a symbol for zero. The Chinese adapted zero from the Hindu system and began to represent zero with a small circle. Zero reached Baghdad around 773 A.D. and was used in the development of the Arabic numbers. Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khowarizmi commonly known as al-Khowarizmi, wrote a book about the Hindu number system that spread throughout the Arab world and beyond. Zero was written almost the same as we write it by 879 A.D. The numbers are often called Arabic numerals or Hindu-Arabic Numerals. Our zero and place-value system came from the Hindu system. Since Spain was part of the Arab world, the Hindu system reached there by 1000 A.D., however it would be a couple more centuries before it spread to the rest of Europe. 

In 1202 Leonardo Fibonacci wrote a book, Liber Abaci or Abacus Book, explaining the benefits of the Hindu number system (versus the Roman numerals the Italians had been using). Fibonacci had discovered the Hindu number system while traveling through Arab lands in search of goods for his father's store. European mathematicians soon began using the Hindu numerals, however most merchants and bankers were unwilling to change. In fact I have read that the Italian government was suspicious of the Arabic symbols because of the ease to change them to a different one so they outlawed using them. Up to this point the abacus was the prevalent tool to do any arithmetic operations.  


Wikipedia: Bakhshali Manuscript, Aryabhata,
"The History of Zero", Nils-Bertil Wallin, Yale Global, November 19, 2002. 
"Who Invented Zero?", Jessie Szalay, Live Science, June 28, 2013.
The History of Zero: Exploring Our Place-Value System, Tika Downey, The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. 2010.

Resources for Younger Kids

Now introducing the history of zero to a kindergartner was fun. We found this great book, The History of Zero: Exploring Our Place-Value System by Tika Downey. It gives a great overview of the history in terms Hazel could understand. It also explains the importance of zero in our modern society. Things like how computers use a binary number system involving only zero and one. Of course even further things are true for why we need zero. Calculus, algebra and so many other types of math could not exist without it.  We also found some fun books with zero or about zero.
The Best of Times was a bit over Hazel head, but is perfect for anyone learning to multiply. The last three are stories. The Secret Life of Math has a wonderful extension of the importance of zero. Have kids go all day (or maybe just a few hours) without using the word zero or any word that means zero. That means not using none, nothing, etc. Get them to really realize it by asking them how many of their least favorite food they want. It also has a few sections about the abacus and the Chinese abacus. The abacus as we know it today is the Chinese abacus which was invented around 1200 A.D. Other extensions on Asian Mathematics and/or zero is to look into the history of algebra, trigonometry and calculus. Now it is time for the giveaway!!

Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month Blog Series 2015 | Multicultural Kid Blogs 

 Multicultural Kid Blogs is excited to announce our second annual Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month Blog Series and Giveaway! See our main page for a full schedule, and be sure to enter the amazing giveaway below! The giveaway starts Monday, May 4 and goes through Monday, June 1. Enter for a chance to win one of these amazing prizes! Please note that there are shipping restrictions on some prizes. In the event that the winner lives outside of the shipping area, that portion of the prize will be added to the following prize package.

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Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month Blog Series & Giveaway 2015 | Multicultural Kid BlogsThe Grand Prize Package includes:

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Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month Blog Series & Giveaway 2015 | Multicultural Kid Blogs
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