What Is the History of Whole Numbers?

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The history of whole numbers is as old as the concept of counting itself, but the first written whole numbers appeared between 3100 and 3400 B.C. Prior to that time, whole numbers were written as tally marks, and there are records of tally marks denoting whole numbers that date back to 30,000 B.C.

Of all the whole numbers, zero may have the richest history. Zero was not always put into use alongside of other whole numbers. In some cases, it was not used until centuries after other whole numbers had been put into use.

In ancient times, zero was denoted by a missing space in a list of numbers, and the first recorded use of a symbol meaning zero was not until about 300 B.C. in Babylon. About 700 years later, a similar symbol appeared in America in Mayan calendars, but Europeans may not have used a zero until the 12th century.

Whole numbers start with zero and go to infinity. Whole numbers are only positive, and they do not contain any fractions or decimals. Whole numbers and integers are not the same thing, as integers also include negative numbers. To proceed from one whole number to the next, one simply needs to add a one.