With all the focus right now on better batteries to power our phones and for new battery technology to make electric cars go further and further, it’s interesting to ponder about an object found in Baghdad in 1936.
During the building of a railway, an ancient tomb was found – dated to about 250BC - and yes, I really am going to suggest that amongst the grave goods, was a very early battery – a very early means to generate electricity.
The object – or rather group of objects – consisted of an earthenware jar which contained a copper cylinder and inside that, was a thin iron rod. Bitumen had been used to plug the openings and I guess, to keep the various components apart. This wasn’t the first time in Iraq that objects like this had been found – the metal bits all strangely seeming to have been corroded by acid – but this was the first time they’d been found largely intact, all nestled inside one another.
There has been speculation ever since that this was a battery – fifteen centuries before batteries were supposedly invented in Europe by Galvani. Replicas of the Baghdad battery have shown that by adding simple acids like vinegar, it could produce about one volt. By combining several of these, useable voltages could be produced and some people have speculated that they were used by the region’s renowned ancient gold and silver makers for electroplating.
Sceptics have argued that just because we can get replicas to generate electricity, this doesn’t mean the ancient people of Baghdad used these as batteries…..but what else could they be? I’m not aware that anyone has come up with a good alternative explanation.