The so-called Baghdad Battery is a jar found by the German archaeologist Wilhelm König in 1938, in Khujut Rabu, on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital. With a bitumen cover (material used to make asphalt) and 2,000 years old, the object contained a circular iron bar housed by a copper cylinder. Among a sea of possibilities for use, some people came to theorize that it would be a primitive battery — but to power what?
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The discoverer himself, König, already began to convey the idea of the battery, about eighteen centuries before the first battery for electrical purposes, by Alessandro Volta, was invented. Although the jug could actually function as a battery, there was nothing to charge at the time. Engineer Willard Gray, for example, used a replica of the artifact and filled it with grape juice, generating 1.5 to 2 volts of electricity. It’s little, but it’s already a load.
What would the primitive battery be used for?
From test to test, even the television show Hunters of Myths set out to unravel the mystery and test the practicality of the object. On the occasion, 10 replicas of the ancient amphora were used, filled with lemon juice to serve as an electrolyte, that is, a substance that manages to form positive ions, which, when dissolved, form solutions that conduct electric current.
Alone, each jar produced 0.5 volts, but together they came to 4.5 volts. With that, it was determined that the myth would be, to some extent, plausible, despite missing the part of the theory that talks about possible uses of this electric potential. Some analyzes question the age of the item, putting it a few centuries ahead of the original dating of 225 AD.
If it is 2,000 years old, it would be from the Parthian Empire, and if the most modern date is correct, it would be from the Sasanian Empire. In both cases, it is possible that the shock effect caused by the kettle was known, even without knowing how it would be produced. Some scientists brought some far-fetched speculations for the use of artifacts like this, such as the religious one.
Imagine that the statue of a god was filled by the primitive mechanism. A priest would then place a worshiper in front of her and ask questions, ordering the questioned to place their hand on the object after speaking. A wrong answer would give a small shock and maybe a pop of blue light due to static. Upon answering correctly, the priest would disconnect the battery from the statue, preventing any shock. The elaborate ritual would serve to prove the power of the god and his religion, as well as that of the priest himself.
More plausible theories
It might even be a far-fetched idea, but it’s not impossible. The problem is that no similar jar has been found in the region, a lack of evidence that complicates the theory — why didn’t the users of the artifact, if they knew it worked, spread the knowledge, even in closed circles of priests or agents of the sort?
The least spectacular of the propositions is that the jars were simply used to hold parchment, wrapped around the inner bars, as seen in others found in nearby regions, such as Seleucia. Backing up the theory are archaeologists, who officially don’t believe the artifact was a battery at all. The jar ended up being looted in 2003, during the American invasion of Iraq, making future studies impossible. We will have to continue in the imagination.
Source: Iraq Civil Society, BBC News