The newsLINK Group - Batteries Were Invented Earlier Than You Think

Editorial Library Category: Mining Topics: Batteries Title: Batteries Were Invented Earlier Than You Think Author: newsLINK Staff Synopsis: The National Museum of Iraq has an interesting bright yellow Sassanid clay jar as part of its collection. It’s about 5.5 inches tall, has a three-inch diameter at its widest point, and has been sealed with pitch (asphalt) at the top. Editorial: Batteries Were Invented Earlier Than You Think 4064 South Highland Drive, Millcreek, Utah 84124 │ │ (v) 801.676.9722 │ (tf) 855.747.4003 │ (f) 801.742.5803 Editorial Library | © The newsLINK Group LLC 1 The National Museum of Iraq has an interesting bright yellow Sassanid clay jar as part of its collection. It’s about 5.5 inches tall, has a three-inch diameter at its widest point, and has been sealed with pitch (asphalt) at the top. An iron rod sticks up a little from the center of the blocked opening at the top. The iron rod is held inside a thin copper tube, but the tube and the copper don’t touch each other. The copper tube is sealed at the bottom by another asphalt seal. The rod’s diameter is a little more than 1.5 inches, and its length is almost 4.75 inches. The jar could be 2000 years old. What is its purpose? It’s a battery. More than that, it probably isn’t even the first one. It’s just the first one that has survived long enough to be identified. A German painter-turned-archeologist named Dr. Wilhelm Konig studied and identified the jar in 1938. By 1940, when he published a paper about it, he was the director. His timing was unfortunate because of World War II. It’s also possible he got at least part of his analysis wrong. Dr. Paul Craddock of the British Museum has identified the Baghdad battery as Sassanian, meaning that either the age of the jar or the place that it was found have not been identified correctly. However, Dr. Craddock does think that it is a battery, along with about a dozen other jars that are much like it. Nobody knows exactly how many of them are still around. If you build a similar jar and fill it with something acid, like wine or vinegar, a jar like this can create between 1.5 V and 2 V of electrical current. The Baghdad battery’s rod, in fact, does show some corrosion, as if from acid, and when it was tested, the jar showed some evidence of having held either wine or vinegar. It is the earliest version of a battery that has been found, and as a result it is called the Baghdad or Parthian battery; despite the name, it could also have been made by the Sassanids. Who exactly are the Parthians (250 B.C. to 225 A.D.) and the Sassanids (225 A.D. to 640 A.D.)? They were two Persian dynasties that were dominant in the Fertile Crescent area around the time the battery was made. If the batteries were made about 200 B.C., that places them in the Parthian era, but they could have been made later. Why would an illiterate and nomadic people need a working battery? According to Dr. Konig, and also today’s experts, the primary theory is that the Parthians probably used one or more batteries made from jars to put a thin layer of gold over artifacts made of silver. This process is called electroplating, and is still used today. Two different people have tested Dr. Konig’s theories. In 1940, William F.M. Gray, a G.E. engineer in Massachusetts, built a replica of the Baghdad battery and successfully made about half a volt of electricity. In the 1970s, a German Egyptologist named Arne Eggebrecht made his own replica and electroplated a silver statuette with gold. Another possibility is medicinal; for example, the Greeks used electric eels to soothe pain located on the sole of the foot, and maybe these batteries made from jars could serve the same purpose. Dr. Craddock has suggested, somewhat cynically, that batteries connected in parallel could also have been used by temple priests. If placed inside an idol, a priest could deliver a small shock or burst of warmth to someone touching the idol, perhaps as a means of giving an answer to a question and also convincing people that the idol truly did represent a pagan god. The invention of the telegraph marks the first time that electricity was put into widespread use to communicate ideas across long distances. The underlying principle for the telegraph was discovered in 1747 by Sir William Watson in England. Next, a Scottish man came up with a signaling machine in 1753 that used one insulated wire to represent every letter of the alphabet. Before long, the telegraph became a standard part of the age. People embraced the idea of the telegraph wholeheartedly, and the new technology even began to affect writing style. Being as brief as possible (even to the point of using code books that could reduce a large message to a small one) was