Though people have always understood the concept of nothing or having nothing, the concept of zero is relatively new. The use of zero started as as a placeholder, invented independently in civilizations around the world, and a symbol for zero appeared at least as far back as 300 B.C. when ancient Sumerians clearly used it as a placeholder (e.g., a way to signify there was no number in a particular place such as 1,205 where there are not ‘tens’). Mayans used zero as a placeholder in their calendar systems at least since 350 A.D, but never used zero in calculations.
Most scholars believe zero, as an operational integer, was developed in India around 458 A.D. by the Hindu astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta. No trivial accomplishment, the creation of zero as an operational number is considered one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of mathematics. Spreading rapidly around the world, zero was fundamental to the development of calculus, which subsequently enabled the study of physics, engineering, computers, economic theory and much more.
Today, zero — as a symbol and mathematical concept — is perceived not only as a great breakthrough in mathematics, but possibly one of the greatest innovations in human history.