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The "Baghdad Battery"
"Let me be what I am, and seek not to alter me."
~Much Ado About Nothing, Act I Scene II

As an engineer, it is rather embarrassing for me to admit that I have no idea how a battery works. My current (that’s not a pun) understanding is that under certain conditions, atoms can release electrons, which are apparently both waves and particles. To me, that means they look like yellow ping pong balls that wiggle around a little. Therefore it was with great trepidation that I read of the “Baghdad Battery”.

The “Baghdad Battery” is the name given to an object found by Wilhelm Konig. It’s a small clay pot, about 5 inches long, that contains a copper cylinder and iron bar. These objects pass through a stopper made of asphalt at the neck of the jar. Nothing more, nothing less.

So how did this little metal-containing bucket get such a grand name? Well, if one were to fill the vessel with an acid (such as some fruit juices) or an akali (such as ashes mixed with water), a chemical reaction would take place that would create electricity. Therefore, the story goes, this jar is a clear example of the first modern battery, created long before those of Count Volta.

If one listens to the UFO enthusiast, their version of the story goes something like this: thousands of years ago, a man in what is now Iraq made the battery. Clearly, such advanced chemistry was beyond the level of knowledge at the time, so he must have been aided by UFOs, Bigfoot, Ghosts, or whatever your favorite paranormal foil is.

The “Battery” is able to produce a piffling current, but many added together could be somewhat powerful, and was therefore used to electroplate jewelry, or could have been used by priests to convince worshippers of their religious power (touching an idol or wand connected to the battery would give one a slight shock, which in ancient times would have been flabbergasting.) Either that, or many of them could be connected together to power a city.

Depending on who you listen to, the scientific community either doesn’t care, or is engaged in a conspiracy at the highest levels to cover up evidence that mankind’s early ancestors were in contact with spacemen.

There are, I am sorry to say, a number of things that don’t quite up about the story, and that are just plain logically dishonest: - No one can agree where the battery came from. Some say that Wilhelm Konig found it during an archaeological dig near Khujut Rabu, and others say that he found it in the basement of the Baghdad Museum when he took over as curator. As always, the more versions of a story, the more suspicious you should be about it.

- No one can agree on when the battery came from. Most authors cite it as being from the Parthian era, some time between 250 BC and 225 AD. Those knowledgeable about art point out that the clay pots are made in the style of a people called the Sassanians, who lived from 250 - 650 AD or so. If these artifacts are as amazingly important as paranormal enthusiasts would have you believe, why is there a range of 900 years in the date of their origin? What’s causing the trouble?

- It is a fact that the “Battery” is made of a clay pot with two pieces of metal and an asphalt stopper. The only evidence that it would have functioned as a battery is that chemical tests showed that at one time the pot “contained an acid substance.” That proves one thing, and one thing only: that it contained an acid substance. It implies, but by no means proves, that it was capable of functioning as a battery.

- The uses for such an object are nothing but supposition. Some claim that it could be used to trick unsuspecting worshippers into believing in the power of their priests; without hard evidence, or evidence of any other kind, it’s just as likely that this theory is a manifestation of the execrable and irrational hatred that some men of science hold for religion in general. Some claim that it could be used as a means of electroplating, that is, depositing a thin layer of one metal (say, gold) on another (lead, perhaps) to adorn jewelry or con unsuspecting merchants. However, not a single piece of electroplated material has ever been found, by anyone, coming from anywhere in the ancient world. Therefore, there’s as much evidence for this as for my personal theory, that the “Battery” was used to power the world’s first robot puppy. (It should be mentioned that in the late 70s, Dr Arne Eggebrecht, then director of Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum, built several replicas, connected them, and claimed to electroplate a layer of silver 1 micron thick. However, she took no lab notes, recorded nothing of her experiment, and no one has ever scientifically duplicated her results. It was done on the TV show Mythbusters, but those are the same guys that “scientifically proved” that if you fire a gun straight up into the air, the bullet will not have enough energy to kill a person when it lands on them, in defiance of a large body of trauma-room evidence.

- There is no evidence to suggest the involvement of UFOs or paranormal phenomena in general. The object is made of perfectly normal earth materials that would have been widely available to whoever built it. The thought that an ancient people could not have built a simple device, perhaps by accident, borders on racism.

- Many theorize that there could be more of these devices out there in the world, but because the parts are so simple and, if disassembled, could easily be mistaken for every-day objects. On the other hand, in the nearly 80 years since the object’s been around, I don’t know of any other archaeologist who, when looking over his collection, concluded that some things he had could function as power sources.

- When it comes right down to it, there’s absolutely no evidence that the “Battery” is anything other than a perfectly normal jar with maybe a weird-looking lid. It’s just as possible that the maker of the Baghdad Battery decided to add an artistic touch to the lid, and used it to store juice, completely oblivious to any electrical properties the whole device had. There's no evidence either way, so we should take it for what it is until proper research can be carried out: a jar.

The story of the Baghdad Battery is, for now, just a story. The claim that it was used as a power source is specious, at best, and the fact that no one really knows when or where the object came from should alone be a source of great caution when discussing it. More study on the object is needed, but I think that for the time being we can all be agreed that the museum in Baghdad has more pressing issues on its plate at the moment. UFO enthusiasts being unable to examine an artifact is surely the least of the many horrors of war; I am willing to wait for a proper scientific study of the devices before reaching any conclusions, although the case certainly looks bad. I suggest that you adopt the same patient attitude before leaping to conclusions about spaceships and men from beyond the stars.

Be seeing you.