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What was the "Baghdad Battery"?

2paacalipse
March 4, 2012

This clip claims that electricity was in use in Ancient Egypt and in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), with evidence such as the "Baghdad Battery" and the lack of any candle soot in the magnificently painted walls of the tombs of Egyptian kings.

Wikipedia: "Baghdad Battery"

The Baghdad Battery, sometimes referred to as the Parthian Battery, is the common name for a number of artifacts created in Mesopotamia, during the dynasties of Parthian or Sassanid period (the early centuries AD), and probably discovered in 1936 in the village of Khuyut Rabbou'a, near Baghdad, Iraq. These artifacts came to wider attention in 1938 when Wilhelm Koenig, the German director of the National Museum of Iraq, found the objects in the museum's collections.

In 1940, Koenig published a paper speculating that they may have been galvanic cells, perhaps used for electroplating gold onto silver objects. Though far from settled, this interpretation continues to be considered as at least a hypothetical possibility. If correct, the artifacts would predate Alessandro Volta's 1800 invention of the electrochemical cell by more than a millennium.

Description and dating

The artifacts consist of terracotta pots approximately 130 mm (5 in) tall (with a one-and-a-half-inch mouth) containing a copper cylinder made of a rolled-up copper sheet, which houses a single iron or (galvanized nail) rod. At the top, the iron rod is isolated from the copper by bitumen plugs or stoppers, and both rod and cylinder fit snugly inside the opening of the jar, which bulges outward toward the middle. The copper cylinder is not watertight, so if the jar were filled with a liquid, this would surround the iron rod as well. The artifact had been exposed to the weather and had suffered corrosion, although mild given the presence of an electrochemical couple. This has led some to believe that wine, lemon juice, grape juice, or vinegar was used as an acidic electrolyte solution to generate an electric current from the difference between the electrochemical potentials of the copper and iron electrodes.

Electrical

Copper and iron form an electrochemical couple, so that, in the presence of any electrolyte, an electric potential (voltage) will be produced. This is not a very efficient battery as gas is evolved at an electrode, the bubbles forming a partial insulation of the electrode so that although several volts can be produced in theory by connecting them in series, their internal resistance from the formation of the gas bubbles becomes so great that it severely limits the electrical current that can be produced from such a simple wet cell.

Koenig had observed a number of very fine silver objects from ancient Iraq that were plated with very thin layers of gold, and speculated that they were electroplated using batteries with these as the cells. After the Second World War, Willard Gray demonstrated current production by a reconstruction of the inferred battery design when filled with grape juice. W. Jansen experimented with benzoquinone (some beetles produce quinones) and vinegar in a cell and got satisfactory performance.

However, even among those believing the artifacts to be electrical devices, electroplating as a use is not well-regarded today. Paul Craddock of the British Museum said "The examples we see from this region and era are conventional gold plating and mercury gilding. There's never been any untouchable evidence to support the electroplating theory."[5] The gilded objects that Koenig thought might be electroplated are now believed to have been fire-gilded (with mercury). Reproduction experiments of electroplating by Arne Eggebrecht consumed "many" reproduction cells to achieve a plated layer just one micrometre thick. Other scientists noted that Eggebrecht used a more efficient, modern electrolyte; using only vinegar, the battery is very feeble.





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