Baghdad Battery

From Fake Archaeology
Jump to: navigation, search

The Baghdad Battery is a peculiar artifact uncovered from just outside of Baghdad, Iraq. The vase like figure has been studied by few archaeologists and its purpose remains unknown, however, many believe it is evidence of the first ancient power source. There have been many purposes suggested for the artifact ranging from electroplating, blessings, or storing magical spells. Recreations of the Baghdad battery and experimentation have provided little evidence on the possibility for the artifact to truly generate sufficient energy, yet some still stand behind the idea. Similar artifacts to the Baghdad Battery have been uncovered at Seleucia and Ctesiphon and are believed to have connections to the existence of the battery. Due to poor record of the excavation and studies of the battery, little is known. Studies have been further halted due to the looting of the museum that which the Battery previously resided, as it was one of the thousands of artifacts stolen and never recovered.

What is the Baghdad Battery?

The Baghdad Battery, also known as the Parthian Battery, consists of a collection of excavated artifacts thought to be puzzle pieces that collectively form a battery. The curious artifact is argued by some as being an ancient power source[1]. The clay container, a bright yellowish color, had a height of about 15 cm and a removed neck [2]. The vase-like structure was found containing two interior pieces. The first, a tube of sheet copper about 9 cm high with a closed bottom approximately 26 mm in diameter. Second, a completely oxidized rod of iron 75 mm in length with a point at the bottom end [3]. A collar of bitumen around the top of the iron rod connected it to the inside of the copper tube, creating an assembled piece. Additional bitumen was found covering the base of the copper cylindrical portion of the battery. The conjoined artifacts existed within the clay vase at excavation [4]. Similar finds were excavated from Seleucia and Ctesiphon. From Seleucia, bronze cylinders with papyrus relics inside were identified, while from Ctesiphon rolled bronze sheets were among some of the finds [5].


The clay pot, copper cylinder, and iron rod that make up the Baghdad Battery.[6]

Excavation

On June 14th, 1936, construction operations on the Baghdad-Bakuba line carried out by Iraq State Railways, near Khuyet Rabbou’a on the outskirts of Baghdad, lead to the exposure of a stone slab covering an ancient burial. Upon this discovery, excavations of the site were then carried out by the Iraq Antiquities Department [7]. Over 600 artifacts and fragmented pieces were recovered from the site. It was believed the artifacts came from the Parthian period, which was around 248 B.C.- 226 A.D, when the Parthians occupied that land [8]; However, St. John Simpson of the Near Eastern department of the British Museum noted that original excavation and context were not well-recorded, so evidence for this date range is very weak[9]. Some of the finds included clay figurines, pottery and glass pieces, engraved bricks, and the group of pieces named collectively as ‘the Baghdad Battery’. After collection, the artifacts were sent to the Iraq Museum where they were then stored. About a year later, the artifacts were rediscovered and examined by Wilhelm Konig. Wilhelm Konig, the director of Antiquities at the Iraq Museum of Baghdad at the time, determined that the vessel was a kind of galvanic cell [10].


Pseudoarchaeological Narrative

Konig was the first to identify the collection of artifacts as a ‘battery’ or a likewise power source. It was believed that the batteries, assuming that there were more, were used to electroplate items such as layering different kinds of metals. This method is still used in Iraq today, so it is believed that the existence of the ‘Baghdad Battery’ marks the origin of the technique [11]. To make the artifacts behave collectively as a battery, Konig argued that there must be an addition of a dilute acidic electrolyte [12]. Tests show that when filled with vinegar or any other electrolytic solution, the single jar produces 1.1 volts [13]. This amount of electricity is not sufficient to produce the believed functions of the container, so Konig argued that there must have been many similar cells that were used in conjunction to produce the necessary power[14].

In 1930, the University of Michigan uncovered four unglazed earthward jars that were sealed with bitumen at the Seleucia trading post on the Tigris river. These jars each had up to four metal rods stuck in the ground around them, one being iron and the rest bronze. Inside the containers were scrolls of papyrus, assumed to once have been inscribed, that existed at various stages of decomposition. At Ctesiphon in 1931 and 1932, six unglazed earthen ware jars were uncovered, each containing little rolls of metal or metal nails [15]. Both Seleucia and Ctesiphon were ancient cities located on the Tigris during the Parthian period, same as that of the Baghdad Battery [16]. Koing suggests that these findings are evidence of the past existence of more ‘Baghdad Batteries’, that when used in unison, could produce a current strong enough to carry out the electroplating process [17]. Some also believe that the batteries were not constructed on earth, but were instead brought and left here by extraterrestrial beings [18]. Other claims have been made suggesting that the batteries were used as a source of electricity that Egyptians used to power light sources that aided in constructing the pyramids [19]. While the object was generally regarded as controversial, sometimes the questions surrounding the Baghdad Battery were lost, and the contraption became undoubtedly known as an ancient electrical power source. Most museums that displayed the find referred to it correctly as controversial; however, some such as the “Roemer-und Pelizaeus- Museum” in Hildesheim, Germany, did not. In 1978, the museum said, “Unbelievable as it sounds some 1,800 years before Galvani… the Parthians knew an electrical cell” [20]. The Baghdad Battery has also managed to unfortunately find its way into serious textbooks on the history of electricity and technologies of battery systems [21].


Deconstruction of the Narrative

Konig’s construction of the vessel put forth various issues regarding practicality and functioning. Due to the weakness of electricity produced, it is apparent that a singular vessel, composed of the pieces found in the excavation, could not harness enough energy to carry out any valuable functions, nor handle a large enough current for a sufficient amount of time [22]. Also, bitumen completely covered the copper cylinder. This means the cylinder was electrically insulated and would not be able to function properly unless the design was modified [23].

On top of this, the battery’s existence had difficulties. The vessel has no documentation or references to its existence, purpose, or construction throughout the Parthian or any other cultures [24]. If the artifacts formed a significant technology, like that proposed by Konig, it would be described and found in documented records and its methods carried on through generations into cultures today. Although electroplating is still used in Iraq culture today [25], it is done in technique much different than the assumed use of the’ Baghdad battery’. There were also no finds that had evidence of being electroplated nearby to support the idea that electroplating was the purpose of the cell. There was also no wires, conductors, or widely accepted electrical equipment with the finds [26].

In order to form a good power source, a strong electric current must flow for an extended amount of time [27]. For the Baghdad battery (or the mentioned similar findings combined with the Baghdad battery) to serve as a power source, there are components that must be met. To draw a current from the apparatus (iron rod), an outer electrical circuit must be closed so that the electrons can flow through to the copper cylinder [28]. For this to happen, an electrode must be used and put inside the copper cylinder so that a cathodic reaction may occur [29]. Konig suggested that acid or citric acid (used as the electrolyte) should produce a successful reaction, and the ancient chemists during the Parthian period had these chemicals in plenty [30]. Yet, Paszthory and Jansen et. al. proved through recreated models and experimentation that naturally occuring acids such as those suggested were too weak and strong mineral acids, unknown at that time, would be needed [31]. Also, the construction of the copper cylinder inside the battery is completely leakproof and allows no oxygen to enter into the electrolyte. As a result, once the oxygen inside the cylinder is completely consumed during the reaction, the electrical current decreases to negligible levels [32]. The small current seen initially in the reaction is due to the oxygen that exists inside the copper cylinder being absorbed, and the end of the current marks the oxygen being completely used up [33].

The parallel findings at Seleucia contained issues as well. For the findings to function as batteries, they would all have to be sealed so that the electrolyte used in the process would not leak out. However, while the findings were closed at the tops and bottoms, the seams were not soldered, and therefore would not be able to hold any liquid. If used in the clay vessel, this would result in the vase being filled with the electrolyte and inability of the battery to function properly [34].


Alternative Interpretations

German professor, chemist, and alchemist H. Gebelein proposed an alternative reasoning for the construction of the Baghdad Battery that connects to Greek Mythology. He interpreted that the affair of mythological figure Venus, who has relations to copper in alchemy, and figure Mars, who has relations to iron, was inspiration for the construction. Gebelein viewed the battery’s construction as a sexual symbol, where the copper cylinder represented a vagina and the iron rod represented a penis. In ancient times, lemon juice and vinegar were used as methods of contraception, so Gebelein proposed this is what the electrolyte used in the battery’s functioning represented [35].

E. Pszthory proposes another purpose for the Baghdad Battery and similar vessels. He argues that the containers could very well have been used for blessings or incantations written on organic material such as parchment or papyrus. This would account for some of the fragments of papyrus that were found inside the similar artifacts discovered at Seleucia [36].


Allan Mills brings to view another purpose for the vessel. He points out that the artifacts were not meant to generate electricity, but rather were used as a tool for survival. He asserts that during this time period, one would use a so-called “goatskin”, or simply an object made out of goatskin, attached to the saddle of a camel to carry one’s belongings, such as food or water. One may then also carry the vessel (clay vase with the copper cylinder and iron rod enclosed) and put it to use if the goatskin acquired a hole. If this occurred, the iron rod would be made hot in a flame and placed into the clay vessel to melt the fragments of bitumen that were found on the interior upon discovery. The melted bitumen could then be applied to the goatskin’s hole to close the unwanted opening and prevent further leaks. Then, the hot iron rod would be returned to the copper container. The copper container would thereafter be placed into the clay vessel in order to prevent the hot iron rod from damaging other belongings being transported [37].

It is also hypothesised that the electricity produced could have been used in treating pain or carrying out acupuncture procedures. Since replication experiments found that the current produced, while small, could be detectable by skin, the theory of possible pain therapy techniques being used with the artifact remains. It is also plausible considering that the use of electrical currents as sources of pain relief by the Greco-Roman world had already been practiced and documented by that time [38].

Another theory persists that the cells were constructed for use in magical rituals done by the Mesopotamians. The Mesopotamians had deep rooted beliefs in magic and supernatural powers. Iron, bronze, copper and bitumen- all found in the Baghdad Battery, were believed by the Mesopotamians to carry their own magical properties. Copper and bronze were believed to harness defensive magical powers, while iron was viewed as more stronger, defensive, and powerful than copper and could break all spells. Bitumen, as a result of its preserving and insulating properties, was believed to possess protective powers through its association with the burning springs of mineral oil. It is possible that the scrolls found inside the Selucia jars once contained inscribed spells and they were put inside the vessels for magical protection [39]. It is also possible that the 'Baghdad Battery' once contained similar scrolls that have since weathered away.


Where is it Now?

In April of 2003, the Iraq National Museum was ransacked as one of the first disasters of the Iraq war [40]. The Baghdad battery was among the estimated 14,000- 15,000 artifacts stolen. It is now believed there were three phases of theft conducted by three separate groups: professionals, random looters, and insiders [41]. As of April 2018, roughly 7,000 of the priceless artifacts were recovered [42]; however, the Baghdad Battery was not one of them. The archaeological find still remains afloat as investigators work to recover the lost artifacts.



References

  1. Scrosati, B. J Solid State Electrochem (2011) 15: 1623. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10008-011-1386-8
  2. Eggert, Gerhard. “The Enigmatic 'Battery of Baghdad'.” The Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 20, no. 3, 1996, pp. 31–34.
  3. Eggert, Gerhard. “The Enigmatic 'Battery of Baghdad'.” The Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 20, no. 3, 1996, pp. 31–34.
  4. Mills, Allan A. “The 'Baghdad Battery'.” Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, vol. 68, 2001, pp. 35–36., www.ampere.cnrs.fr/histoire/files/original/b44242819898378f3f40ea294e923e5c.pdf.
  5. Eggert, Gerhard. “The Enigmatic 'Battery of Baghdad'.” The Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 20, no. 3, 1996, pp. 31–34.
  6. R, Rajkumar. “Baghdad Battery.” Elixir Of Knowledge, 4 June 2014, www.elixirofknowledge.com/2014/06/baghdad-battery.html.
  7. Mills, Allan A. “The 'Baghdad Battery'.” Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, vol. 68, 2001, pp. 35–36., www.ampere.cnrs.fr/histoire/files/original/b44242819898378f3f40ea294e923e5c.pdf.
  8. Sethi, A. K. (2016). Business of electronics: a concise history. Place of publication not identified: Palgrave Macmillan.
  9. Chitsaz, M. R. "Parthian Battery." (2012).
  10. Handorf, D.E.. (2002). The Baghdad battery - Myth or reality?. Plating and Surface Finishing. 89. 84-87.
  11. Downes, Dennielle, and Ava Meyerhoff. “Battery, Baghdad, 250 BCE.” Smith College Museum of Ancient Inventions: Baghdad Battery, 3 Dec. 2014, instructional-resources.physics.uiowa.edu/sites/instructional-resources.physics.uiowa.edu/files/field/demos/documents/5e40.03%20-%20Smith%20College%20Museum%20of%20Ancient%20Inventions_%20Baghdad%20Battery.pdf.
  12. Mills, Allan A. “The 'Baghdad Battery'.” Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, vol. 68, 2001, pp. 35–36., www.ampere.cnrs.fr/histoire/files/original/b44242819898378f3f40ea294e923e5c.pdf.
  13. Downes, Dennielle, and Ava Meyerhoff. “Battery, Baghdad, 250 BCE.” Smith College Museum of Ancient Inventions: Baghdad Battery, 3 Dec. 2014, instructional-resources.physics.uiowa.edu/sites/instructional-resources.physics.uiowa.edu/files/field/demos/documents/5e40.03%20-%20Smith%20College%20Museum%20of%20Ancient%20Inventions_%20Baghdad%20Battery.pdf.
  14. Mills, Allan A. “The 'Baghdad Battery'.” Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, vol. 68, 2001, pp. 35–36., www.ampere.cnrs.fr/histoire/files/original/b44242819898378f3f40ea294e923e5c.pdf.
  15. Paszthory, Emmerich. "Electricity generation or magic? The analysis of an unusual group of finds from Mesopotamia." MASCA research papers in science and archaeology 6 (1989): 31-38.
  16. Jens Kröger, “CTESIPHON,” Encyclopædia Iranica, VI/4, pp. 446-448, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ctesiphon
  17. Eggert, Gerhard. “The Enigmatic 'Battery of Baghdad'.” The Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 20, no. 3, 1996, pp. 31–34.
  18. Altaher, Mohamed. “Who Stole the Mysterious Baghdad Battery? – Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI).” Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative ICSSI, 12 Jan. 2016, www.iraqicivilsociety.org/archives/4946.
  19. Lienhard, John. “Engines of Our Ingenuity .” No. 1972: Baghdad Batteries, 2005, www.uh.edu/engines/epi1972.htm
  20. Catalogue. 1978. Exhibit: Sumer Assur Babylon, Romer- und Pelizaeus- Museum. No. 182. Mainz: P. V. Zabern.
  21. Mills, Allan A. “The 'Baghdad Battery'.” Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, vol. 68, 2001, pp. 35–36., www.ampere.cnrs.fr/histoire/files/original/b44242819898378f3f40ea294e923e5c.pdf.
  22. Eggert, Gerhard. “The Enigmatic 'Battery of Baghdad'.” The Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 20, no. 3, 1996, pp. 31–34.
  23. Chitsaz, M. R. "Parthian Battery." (2012).
  24. Mills, Allan A. “The 'Baghdad Battery'.” Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, vol. 68, 2001, pp. 35–36., www.ampere.cnrs.fr/histoire/files/original/b44242819898378f3f40ea294e923e5c.pdf.
  25. Downes, Dennielle, and Ava Meyerhoff. “Battery, Baghdad, 250 BCE.” Smith College Museum of Ancient Inventions: Baghdad Battery, 3 Dec. 2014, instructional-resources.physics.uiowa.edu/sites/instructional-resources.physics.uiowa.edu/files/field/demos/documents/5e40.03%20-%20Smith%20College%20Museum%20of%20Ancient%20Inventions_%20Baghdad%20Battery.pdf.
  26. Chitsaz, M. R. "Parthian Battery." (2012).
  27. Eggert, Gerhard. “The Enigmatic 'Battery of Baghdad'.” The Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 20, no. 3, 1996, pp. 31–34.
  28. Eggert, Gerhard. “The Enigmatic 'Battery of Baghdad'.” The Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 20, no. 3, 1996, pp. 31–34.
  29. Eggert, Gerhard. “The Enigmatic 'Battery of Baghdad'.” The Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 20, no. 3, 1996, pp. 31–34.
  30. Eggert, Gerhard. “The Enigmatic 'Battery of Baghdad'.” The Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 20, no. 3, 1996, pp. 31–34.
  31. Eggert, Gerhard. “The Enigmatic 'Battery of Baghdad'.” The Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 20, no. 3, 1996, pp. 31–34.
  32. Eggert, Gerhard. “The Enigmatic 'Battery of Baghdad'.” The Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 20, no. 3, 1996, pp. 31–34.
  33. Eggert, Gerhard. “The Enigmatic 'Battery of Baghdad'.” The Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 20, no. 3, 1996, pp. 31–34.
  34. Eggert, Gerhard. “The Enigmatic 'Battery of Baghdad'.” The Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 20, no. 3, 1996, pp. 31–34.
  35. Eggert, Gerhard. “The Enigmatic 'Battery of Baghdad'.” The Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 20, no. 3, 1996, pp. 31–34.
  36. “Some Historical Aspects of Copper and Corrosion.” Copper and Bronze in Art: Corrosion, Colorants, Conservation, by David A. Scott, Getty Conservation Institute, 2002, pp. 16–18
  37. Mills, Allan A. “The 'Baghdad Battery'.” Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, vol. 68, 2001, pp. 35–36., www.ampere.cnrs.fr/histoire/files/original/b44242819898378f3f40ea294e923e5c.pdf.
  38. “Some Historical Aspects of Copper and Corrosion.” Copper and Bronze in Art: Corrosion, Colorants, Conservation, by David A. Scott, Getty Conservation Institute, 2002, pp. 16–18
  39. Paszthory, Emmerich. "Electricity generation or magic? The analysis of an unusual group of finds from Mesopotamia." MASCA research papers in science and archaeology 6 (1989): 31-38.
  40. Bogdanos, M. (2005). The Casualities of War: The Truth about the Iraq Museum. American Journal of Archaeology, 109(3), 477-526. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/40026122
  41. Bogdanos, M. (2005). The Casualities of War: The Truth about the Iraq Museum. American Journal of Archaeology, 109(3), 477-526. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/40026122
  42. Prasad, Jocelyn. “Iraq Museum Looting: 15 Years On.” The University of Sydney, 2018, sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2018/04/10/iraq-museum-looting--15-years-on.html.