Khmer Empire and the Number Zero

Khmer Empire and the Number Zero

Cambodia’s national museum is planning to showcase what many experts in the field considered to be the or one of the oldest symbol of the number zero.  It is from an old scrip from the Khmer civilization which depicts it as a dot representing the zero symbol.  This script is on display currently in the month of January at the museum.

The restored script was first found back in the 19th century in the North East area of Cambodia.  The province that it was found in is called Kratie province located specifically in the area of Trapan Prei. Prei is a archaeological site ad the script was discovered by a Frenchman named Leclere in the year 1891.  He was an archaeologist who classified the inscription as K – 127 along with his colleague Mister Coedes.


The published a journal at that time was put into debate of the origin of the number zero.  Apparently other nations and cultures lay claim to the origin such as the country of India and the Arabic world.  To put into perspective, as mentioned in the first paragraph, the ancient Cambodian or Khmer script had a dot depicting the value of zero.  The first discovery of the value zero depicted as a circle comes from India in the year 876AD.  The circle dot was from a script called the Bakhshali which apparently has numerous zeros in its collection.  The issue is that many researchers and experts have a difficult time to determine this because of its very fragile condition.

Other cultures that also used the value zero in their scripts or writing  such as several pre-Columbian civs like the Mayans.  Supposedly the Mayans used it in their hieroglyphics along with their number system and calendars.  The issue is that the actual numbering system from the Mayans has not survive till this day.

In the Khmer empire, the number zero in their numbering system was important in their constructions of their buildings such as temples.  Their most famous temple is that of Angkor Wat with a population of 1 million people at its height.