National Museum to Show First Zero Inscription

Fulfilling a dying dream of mathematician Amir Aczel, an exhibition is set to open this month at the National Museum displaying an inscription in Old Khmer containing the very first use of the number “0” discovered in the world.

Dating back to the year 683 and labeled K-127, the inscription was documented in 1931 by French scholar George Coedes and brought again into the limelight two years ago when Amir Aczel wrote about it in a magazine article and then later in the book “Finding Zero.”

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Amir Aczel poses next to K-127, the stone slab inscribed with what is believed to be the oldest use of the number “0.” (Amir D. Aczel Fund for Mathematics)

“The inscription reads like a bill of sale and includes references to slaves, five pairs of oxen and sacks of white rice,” he wrote in the Smithsonian magazine.

But it also contains the number “0,” he added.

“Unique in representing absolute nothingness, its role as a placeholder gives our number system its power.”

The stone inscription was brought to the National Museum’s restoration workshop in recent years, museum director Kong Vireak said on Monday, adding that the timing for the opening of the exhibition would depend on when Amir Aczel’s wife is able to attend.

On a website dedicated to raising money for the Amir D. Aczel Fund for Mathematics, his family says: “We hope to raise money to fund Amir’s dream of seeing this stone beautifully installed in Cambodia’s National Museum in a permanent display to highlight the role of the Khmer zero in the history of mathematics.”

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