BAGHDAD – Did humans discover electricity long before the history books tell us? That is the implication of the mysterious Baghdad Battery.
‘Baghdad Battery’ is a name given to a group of items excavated in Khujut Rabu, Iraq in 1936. But it wasn’t until 1940, when William Konig, director of the National Museum of Iraq, published a paper on the objects that they were revealed to the modern world.
The objects are five-inch tall terracotta jars, that contain a copper cylinder, which itself contains an iron rod. When the jar is filled with water that contains a common acidic agent like lemon juice or vinegar, it would surround the iron rod as well. Konig’s hypothesis was that given that copper and iron form an electrochemical pair, the acidic agent could help produce an electric current.
While that may not sound very exciting, the implications are astounding. Archaeologists are unclear on when they were created, but the jars could date back as far as 250 BC. This means that humans may have known how to use electricity almost 2,000 years before Benjamin Franklin “discovered” it!
What could the Batteries have been used for? It is generally agreed that the items would have been inefficient as actual batteries, but could have been used in any number of other ways. Scientists believe it could have been anything from electroplating statues to producing a religious experience through the electrical sensation.
The hypothesis that ancient Iraq had access to electricity further fuels the belief that the ancient Egyptians understood it as well. This is usually supported by what is called the “Dendera light”, a stone relief in the Hathor temple. While most interpret the image as a snake within a lotus flower, others believe it is an electric lamp.