The concept of Baghdad Battery stands for three artifacts which were found all at once: a metal cylinder, a metal bar and a ceramic pot. Their purpose is viewed as some storage pots for sacred papyrus, but can there be more to it than meets the eye?
In the late 1930s, an Austrian archaeologist by the name of Wilhelm Kong was searching through the basement of the museum when he made an unusual discovery that was going to utterly change our basic notions of ancient knowledge.
A 6-inch-high pot of bright yellow clay consisting of a sheet-copper cylinder dating back two millennia was found. The edge of the cylinder was fastened with a 60-40 lead-tin mixture comparable to today’s cement.
The bottom of the cylinder was topped with a folded copper disk and sealed with bitumen. Another shielding layer of bitumen sealed the top, holding in place an iron bar suspended into the center of the cylinder.
The bar showed evidence of corrosion with some acidic agent. Having a background in mechanics, Dr. Konig identified that this configuration was not arranged by chance and that the clay pot was nothing more than sort of ancient electric battery.
The timeworn battery found in the Baghdad Museum, along with those which were discovered in Iraq, are all dated from the time of the Parthian occupation between 248 BCE and 226 CE. Nonetheless, Dr. Konig also discovered copper pots coated with silver in the Baghdad Museum, dating back to at least 2500 BC.
A few years ago, a theory was proposed revealing that electrolyte-crushed wine grapes may have been used for these ancient batteries. And so it was put to the test with a positive result – a replica of the Baghdad cell generated 0.87V. Thus, for electroplating small objects only several cells in serial arrangement were sufficient.
It also appears that the use of similar batteries can be safely allotted into ancient Egypt, where several objects with traces of electroplated precious metals have been found at different locations.
One of them is the waistband from the tomb of Chinese general Chu, which was created from an alloy of 5% manganese, 10% copper and 85% aluminum. The electrolytic process is the only feasible method of aluminum production from bauxite, after patenting alumina dissolution in molten cryolite in the middle of the 19th century.
What is clear to us so far, is that the Baghdad batteries were capable of conducting electricity, as resulted after an experiment performed by a number of students of ancient history, under the coordination of Dr. Marjorie Senechal, professor of the history of science and technology, at Smith College, US.
Despite its clear functionality as a low voltage battery (in the range of 0.8 up to 2 volts), the so called “Battery of Babylon” may have had other purposes, but that remains a mystery for now.
Taking into account that a connection in series of this kind of batteries could deliver a substantial voltage, no wiring was found, indicating that our main assumption could be incorrect.
Trying to think outside of the box, some have even indicated a medical use of these alleged batteries. Ancient Greek scrolls described the pain killing effect of the electric fish applied at the base of the feet. But that practice could not have been more efficient than opium, cannabis or wine, making the batteries irrelevant at least in this application.
Decades after the discovery had been made, archaeologists are certain there’s plenty more similar objects waiting to be brought to light. Who knows, maybe such vestiges lay unrecognized in museums throughout the world. Such a scenario is very plausible, since the individual parts of these batteries don’t strike the slightest resemblance to a battery, unless all pieces are together.