In the development of written notation, a symbol for zero was evolved long after symbols for the other numbers were invented. The Babylonians used written symbols for numbers thousands of years before they invented a symbol for zero. Zero was introduced initially, not as a number to be used in computation, but as a position marker to distinguish between such numbers as 123, 1203, 1230, and 1023. The Maya, about the 1st century ad, used a small oval containing an inner arc to denote zero. About five centuries later the Hindus began to use a circle or a dot as a symbol for zero; the dot later fell into disuse. These Indian mathematicians wrote numbers in columns, and they used the zero to represent a blank column. The Hindu word for zero was sunya, meaning empty, or void; this word, translated and transliterated by the Arabs as sifr, is the root of the English words cipher and zero.

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