Science02 Aug 2010 03:25 pm
In 1936, a series of artifacts were discovered in the village of Khuyut Rabbou’a near Baghdad. At first glance, it appeared to be more of the same: terracotta pots. Not exactly a unique find in that part of the world. But two years later, in 1938, Wilhelm König, Director of the National Museum of Iraq , suggested an alternative explanation: the pots, made some 1,000 years before Alessandro Volta supposedly invented the device, were batteries.
Unlike most ancient pottery, the Baghdad or “Parthian” Batteries are each filled with a iron cylinder wrapped in copper sheeting. Fill it with an acidic liquid — anything from vinegar to lemon juice — and it would produce an electric current.
What were the Baghdad Batteries used for? Adding gold plating to silver objects (a process known as “electroplating”)? Acupuncture? Early magic tricks? Scholars are divided, and many of them disagree with the allegation that these are batteries at all. For what it’s worth, the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters dedicated an episode to the question, and decided that the Baghdad Batteries could very well have produced an electric current. If so, it was an amazingly advanced discovery on the part of the world’s oldest civilization.
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