The Baghdad Battery

I’m interested in this refutation of the purpose of the famous ‘Baghdad Battery’.

The Baghdad Battery is definitely controversial; the purpose of the artifact, potentially as an electrochemical cell used for electroplating (more than a thousand years before the invention of the leclanche cell) is hotly debated.

I first heard about the Baghdad battery in the early 2000’s after reading this BBC article (link); I remember referring to it while teaching a high school Chemistry class although I was careful to let the kids know that the artifact’s purpose is unknown.


Archaeological Fantasies

Ah the Baghdad Battery, such a simple, yet confounding object…or is it?

Let’s start at the beginning…or should I say beginnings?

The story starts with one German artist/archaeologist Wilhelm Konig who either unearthed the vessel during an excavation in Khujut Rabu [2], or found the object in the basement of the Baghdad Museum when he took over as curator [6]. Now, Konig was a real person, he was appointed Assistant Director of the Baghdader Antikenverwaltung (the Baghdad Antiquities’ Administration), becoming its Director in 1934 [1], and he appears to have published a paper on the Battery but I can’t find a copy [2, 4].

So let’s ignore the two conflicting origin stories and move on.

When the vessel was examined there was evidence of an acidic substance being present, and a copper cylinder and a metal rod, all held in place with an asphalt plug. Konig supposedly said this was a battery and was used for…

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