Science, Math & Metallurgy in Early India

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  • 0:01 Role of Science in…
  • 0:45 Science
  • 1:42 Math
  • 3:16 Technology
  • 4:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

For hundreds of years, Indian innovations in science, math, and technology were at the cutting edge of human achievement. In fact, Indian scientists managed to discover zero, create harder steel, and even perform plastic surgery.

Role of Science in Ancient India

We may think of many innovations such as plastic surgery, advanced mathematical analysis, or sophisticated metalworking as hallmarks of our modern society, but in fact, these and many other scientific breakthroughs predate our own culture by thousands of years.

In this lesson, we will look at how early Indians took advantage of significant gains in technology, both in building and metalworking, but also in science and math, to produce writings that are continuing to surprise scholars to this day, and have caused many to re-examine how ancient scientific knowledge developed.


When flu season comes around, you go to the doctor and get a flu shot to keep you from catching the flu. That shot is called an immunization, and the idea behind it comes from ancient India, where people were immunized against smallpox starting more than 2,000 years ago. Also, if you broke a bone badly, up until 200 years ago, many in the West would simply chop the limb off. However, in India, methods to fix broken bones, no matter how badly they had been broken, go back even further. And yes, if you had been badly scarred, there was even plastic surgery to make you feel better about yourself. Western medicine wouldn't catch up to Indian research into pharmaceutical drugs until 150 years ago. Yet it wasn't just medicine in which the Indians were expert. More than 1,000 years before Europeans figured out that the earth revolved around the sun, instead of the other way around, the Indians had already proven it. Even the idea of atoms and elements was first mentioned in India.


You may have heard our numbers that we use every day for math and for counting referred to as Arabic numerals, but in fact they are actually Indian in origin. We simply call them Arabic numerals because we got them from the Arabs. In fact, it only makes sense that these numbers would come from the Indians because it was the Indians who invented the idea of zero.

Now, I know what you're thinking. How many people does it take to invent zero? But think about it: isn't the idea of expressing nothing in math important? Without zero, we couldn't accurately tell how much your friend owes you, as we couldn't have negative numbers. Truth be told, we wouldn't make it that far. Try writing the number ten. Can you do it without a zero? Sure, you can write t-e-n or even put a Roman numeral X, but then try to add or subtract something. Difficult, isn't it? By using zero as a place keeper, the Indians were able to greatly simplify math.

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