The History of Zero: Indian and Mayan Cultures

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Zero is usually recognized today as being originated in two geographically separated cultures: the Maya and Indian. If zero was a place-holder symbol, then such a zero was present in the Babylonian positional number system before the first recorded occurrence of the Indian zero. If zero was represented by an empty space within a well-defined positional number system, such a zero was present in Chinese mathematics a few centuries before the beginning of the Common Era. The absence of a symbol for zero in China did not prevent it from being an efficient computational tool that could handle solution of higher degree order equations involving fractions.
However, the Indian zero was a symbol, a number, a magnitude, a direction separator and a place-holder, all in one operating within a fully established positional numeration system. Such a zero occurred only twice in history - the Indian zero which is now the universal zero and the Mayan zero which occurred in solitary isolation in Central America at the beginning of the Common Era. To understand the first appearances of the Indian and Mayan zeroes, it is necessary to examine them both within the social contexts in which both of these inventions occurred. Because of the popular difficulties with the zero, there has occurred over time a series of avoidance mechanisms to cope with the presence of zero. The word zero comes from the Arabic meaning void or empty which became later the term for zero. The ancient Egyptians never

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