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Baghdad Battery: 2000 year-old Mystery

Baghdad Battery

The group of artifacts known as the Baghdad Battery consisted of a terracotta vessel about 14 cm long, containing a cylinder made of rolled copper plate that fits a single iron rod. During archaeological excavations in the village of “Khujut Rabu”, a 2000- year-old settlement near Baghdad, workers found a strange jar made of yellow clay among the ruins of the ancient city in 1936.

The Baghdad Battery caught the attention of archaeologist Wilhelm Koenig, the German curator of the Baghdad Museum, among other works in the National Museum of Iraq in 1938. After careful examination, he suggested that the jar could be a cell used to generate electricity, and that it was produced for the purpose of electroplating precious objects. However, Koenig’s discovery and the studies he published were forgotten due to the Second World War.

Baghdad Battery

The jars dated to the Parthian period (roughly from 250 BC to 250 AD) contained a vertical iron rod surrounded by a copper cylinder. This iron rod was fixed to the asphalt lid at the top of the jar. The rod dropped into the tube and was not in contact with any point. There were also traces of corrosion evidence on the stick, possibly caused by the use of an acidic liquid such as vinegar or wine.

This ancient mechanism began to attract the attention of many researchers in the years that followed the Second World War. Analyzes showed that acidic liquids such as vinegar or wine were placed in the jars, and there were some signs of wear.

After the war, Willard Gray, an American working at the General Electric High Voltage Laboratory in Pittsfield, made replicas and filled them with an electrolyte, proving that the devices could generate 2 volts of electricity. In the ’70s, a group of German researchers tested Koenig’s claims by making a replica of the setup and succeeded in electroplating a thin layer of silver.

Baghdad BatteryNumerous experiments have been carried out on different replicas of the mechanism, and it is considered as a battery because it has been scientifically proven. So how did an ancient culture know about the existence of electricity, and for what reason did it use this battery? There is more than one theory regarding the usage purpose of the Baghdad battery.

One of the theories says that the Baghdad battery may have been used as a therapeutic method. Because in ancient Greek civilization, it is known that applying electricity relieves pain, for this, electric eels were given to the soles of the patient’s feet. This could explain the presence of the needle-like objects found in some batteries. However, many researchers have stated that this low-voltage battery cannot produce enough electricity to relieve pain.

Another theory regarding Baghdad batteries is that the batteries are used for religious purposes by hiding them in a statue or idol. People touching religious statues or idols are likely to receive noticeable electric shocks.

In this view, a parallel-connected battery stack may be hidden inside a metal sculpture or idol. According to Dr. Paul T Craddock, metallurgical history expert at the British Museum, “A god statue can be tied up, and then the priest can ask you questions. If you answer them incorrectly, you will touch the statue, and perhaps you will experience a little shock with a small, mysterious flash of blue light. If you get the answer right, the trickster or priest can disconnect the batteries, and no shock comes – he then becomes convinced of the power of the statue, the priest, and religion.”

Reconstruction of Baghdad Battery

Reconstruction of Baghdad Battery.

While there is no theory that archaeologists agree on, the only widely accepted explanation is that it was used for electrolysis coating. You can make one believe that copper is gold. For example, if you are producing jewelry, it means that the material in your hand will instantly become valuable. 

Baghdad batteries, the exact number of which is unknown, were stolen from the Baghdad Archaeological Museum during the 2003 US invasion of Iraq along with many other important artifacts and are still missing.

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