The Bakhshālī Manuscript: A Response to the Bodleian Library's Radiocarbon Dating

Abstract

Popular attention has recently been captured by the results of the Bodleian Library's 2017 project of radiocarbon dating portions of the birch-bark fragments constituting what is known as the Bakhshālī Manuscript.  In this paper, we disagree with the interpretation of the findings announced by the Bodleian team. In particular, we argue that the earliest dated folio of this manuscript is unlikely to be the date of the whole text. Rather, the latest dateable folio is logically the date of the scribal activity. This fits well with past estimates of the date of the Bakhshālī Manuscript based on historical, philological and palaeographic arguments..  And we argue that the Bakhshālī Manuscript does include written zeros that function as arithmetical operators, i.e., as numbers in their own right, and not merely as place-holders, as asserted by the Bodleian team. Finally, we express regret that the Bodleian Library chose to announce scientific results without peer-review and through a press release to newspapers and a YouTube video.

Author Biographies

Kim Plofker, Union College, Schenectady, USA
Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics
Clemency Montelle, University of Canterbury, Christchurch
Associate Professor of Mathematics, Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Dominik Wujastyk, University of Alberta
Professor, Department of History & Classics, Singhmar Chair in Classical Indian Society and Polity
Published
2017-10-06
Section
Articles