Apr 26, 2009
The Parthian Battery is the title given to a supposed voltaic chamber discovered within an ancient tomb close to Khujut Rabu in 1936 southeast of Baghdad. The Baghdad battery as it is also termed, is a excellent illustration of how science questions findings of operational ancient lost technology.
The entity, estimated to have existed in Baghdad/Egypt around 250BC, was discovered by workers excavating earth for a modern train track in the region of Khujut Rabu. In 1938, German archaeologist Wilhelm Konig, at the time director of the Baghdad Museum Research lab, stumbled upon the peculiar looking item, in a container in the museum cellar.
The battery consists of a 14cm in height egg shaped clay vase with an asphalt bung. Poking between the asphalt is an iron rod enveloped by a copper cylinder. When the vessel is filled with acetum or any other electrolytic mixture the vase omits around 1.5 to 2.0 volts of electricity. The initial theory was that the battery had been used for electroplating gold onto silver objects although it was later suppositioned that the battery may have held medicinal applications considering the bronze and iron spikes unearthed adjacent to the battery. The principal issue with the hypothesis of medical usage was in relation to the extremely low voltage the battery manufactures, which to some non believers would have not had any evident influence on anything other than very insignificant pain.
In spite of the frequent experiments with replicas of the Baghdad batteries, cynics dispute that there is no evidence that they ever operated as electric batteries. They conceive that an asphalt seal such as that on the Baghdad battery, whilst not remarkably realistic for a Galvanic cell, would be ideal as a airtight seal for storage over an protracted time. The problem now remains if the Baghdad Battery was an isolated discovery given the lack of similar finds to date. Disastrously however in 2003, in the course of the war in Iraq, the Baghdad Battery was plundered from the National Museum, together with thousands of additional incalculable ancient artefacts. A supported substitute interpretation of those sceptical of the electrical battery hypothesis, is that the vessel acted as a repository for religious scrolls, conceivably comprising of rituals of some kind inscribed on natural textiles such as parchment or Cyperus papyrus.
Despite our understandings of the usage of this device and whether or not it truly was a piece of lost ancient technology remains a mystery given the limited evidence retrieved from the excavation site. The fact that the items were discovered next to each other and when combined form a primitive battery we would be foolish to ignore the intelligence of our ancients, especially considering other ancient technologies which we are confident of their function and purpose.