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Enlightening SymbolsA Short History of Mathematical Notation and Its Hidden Powers$
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Joseph Mazur

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780691173375

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691173375.001.0001

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The Indian Gift

The Indian Gift

(p.35) Chapter 4 The Indian Gift
Enlightening Symbols

Joseph Mazur

Princeton University Press

This chapter discusses the legacy of Indian mathematics. With very few archaeological clues, the origins of the Indian numbers must rely on a small wealth of writing that survives almost exclusively in the form of stone inscriptions. Some of those stone epigraphs used decimal place-value numerals, providing some evidence that ancient India was familiar with a kind of place-value numerical system. Some letter combinations of the Sanskrit words for numbers probably contributed suggestive shapes early in the morphographic history of our current script. The chapter first considers the Brahmi number system before turning to modern Hindu-Arabic numerals. It also examines how the Western system of numerals with zero came to be by focusing on finger counting, the dust boards, and the abacus.

Keywords:   Indian mathematics, Indian numbers, place-value, numbers, Brahmi number system, Hindu-Arabic numerals, finger counting, dust boards, abacus, Sanskrit

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