Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wednesday Weird: The Baghdad Batteries

Taking a break from creepy creatures or what-have-you popping up in windows and doors, today we have something much more normal. But still weird.

In 1936, while excavating a 2000 year old village near Baghdad, a small, strange vase was discovered.
The vase was 6 inches high and made of bright yellow clay. Also, the clay was dated back two millenia.

On top of that, the vase contained a cylinder of sheet copper 5 inches by 1.5 inches and the edge of the copper sheet was soldered with a lead tin alloy similar to today's solder. The bottom of the cylinder was capped with more copper and sealed and the top was sealed in order to hold in place an iron rod suspended in the center of the copper cylinder. The rod had been corroded in places by acid.

Archaeologists examined the artifact and came to the surprising conclusion that it was, in fact, an electric battery, made 1800 years before their invention in 1799.

Replicas made of this battery (and others found in roughly the same region (close to a dozen in total)) show that the batteries could produce from .8 to nearly 2 volts of electricity.

Unfortunately, no one really knows what they were used for. Some people think they were used for pain killing, though opium and other, better, pain killing options were already in use at the time.
They could have also been used to electroplating - transferring a thing layer of metal onto another metal surface - but there hasn't been any artifacts discovered in the region with this kind of decoration or effect.
Or maybe they were just used as some sort of magical ritual. If you don't understand the science you created, it would be easy to say that touching an idol would give you a tingle.

Either way, it certainly changes the way, once again, we think about the past and the people who lived there.



Maria Zannini said...

I remember reading about this many years ago. It makes me wonder how many things we've forgotten how to do (or make) over the centuries.

Anne Gallagher said...

I just watched a documentary on the Science channel two nights ago on this very same subject. Honest.

They were digging around the pyramids and found almost the same kind of relic, and the scientists said they were most likely used for cutting the stones for the pyramids. Attaching the "battery" to a cutting tool so they could cut and shape the huge rocks.

However, although they agreed this was how the pyramids were built, none of the scientists would actually put their weight behind the conclusion as it was too far fetched, although they all agreed it was the most likely theory.

Suffice it to say, aliens did not build the pyramids.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It's amazing what people who lived a couple thousand years ago possessed in terms of technology.

Slamdunk said...

Now that is a cool find. So much for modern science.

The kids and I dig up things with our metal detector, but unfortunately we find more buried cans than ancient history.

Teebore said...

I'm pretty sure the Pompeii exhibit that came through the Science Museum a few years ago had a few of those batteries. I remember seeing them/reading about them in some museum, at least.

I can totally buy that ancient people would stumble on the chemical makeup of a battery (even if they didn't fully understand WHY it worked the way it did) but it does make you wonder what they used it for.

Catherine Stine said...

Very cool, and hey, it could've been a huge dildo. Okay, I know, gross but I couldn't resist.
Catherine Stine’s Idea City

Rena said...

Funny, but the arc of the covenant is basically a great big capacitor too. Makes me wonder how much which people knew.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Wow. That is amazing! I sometimes wonder if two thousand years from now they'll unearth stuff from our lives and try to figure out how they were used, you know? But if that really was used as a battery, well, I really would like to know what they used it for! So intriguing.

Jamie Gibbs said...

This is one of my favourite artefacts. My reckoning is that some ancient genius figured it out, and people just went "ppfffft, we don't need that!" and ignored the new tech.


DL Hammons said...

Did MgGyver find a time machine? :)

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