Long before numbers were invented, man kept numerical records by finger counting or making marks to represent each commodity or item . Notches cut on hunting tool of the stone age found at Ravanella [ P.E. P. Dereniyagala] may be the only available evidence of this type found in the Island. When it came to large numbers, this procedure became cumbersome and it was simple to allocate a symbol for a group of marks. These numerals of the Island are similar to ancient numerals of India. Most of the Sinhala symbols for Numerals on rock inscriptions are attested by number words. It is possible to infer that 20 numerals were used to express numbers. They are in groups of Tens- i.e Ten numerals for units up to Ten, 9 numerals for tens up to Hundred, and a Numeral for a Thousand . There is no evidence of the use of Zero in this system . These 20 numerals continued to evolve up to the 19 Cent, alongside other counting system, until it was replaced by the present Indo-Arabic numerals by the colonial rulers.
Other Systems of Numeration- James De Alwis
Base 60 System
The Sinhalese used the old Babylonians base 60 to record time in hours per day and yearly periods. They had 60 year periods, and 60 hours per day of 24 minutes.
Bhuta samkaya System
The Sinhalese may have had access to the Indian Bhuta samkaya system that was used in Sanskrit and Pali texts This system is a method of recording numbers using ordinary words having connotations of numerical values .
- Zero was nothing or Vacuum.
- Moon with “One”- Only one moon
- The number “two” can be associated with the word “eye” as every human being has two eyes. or with a birds– as they are twice born.
- Any word meaning tooth– 32 – The number of teeth etc.
Moon-Bird- Vacuum- One is 1-2-0-1