The Baghdad Battery

Leaving aside the archealogical denial that it was used for electroplating, or even that it was a battery, as a kid I was fascinated by this relic. So fascinated, I built one.

I went to the local hardware and bought an iron 1/4 inch bolt (you could still get them from the hardware in 1976) a copper pipe joiner (basically a copper cylynder with flaired ends) and a plastic paint mixing cup. Back home, I got some orange juice out of the fridge, soldered a wire to one end of the copper tube, used a 1/4 inch nut to fasten another wire to the iron bolt, fastened the copper tube to the bottom of the cup with some of my kid sister's plasticene, hung the bolt down the middle of the copper tube with the help of more plasticene and a chop stick, then attached my multimeter. Filling the cup with orange juice to the top of the copper tube, about half a volt ensued. Maximum current was about 20mA, the charge lasted for about 20 minutes and the orange juice became a bit stinky.

So, in my mind the Baghdad Battery was "proven." Was it's intent to be a battery, though? That's harder to tell. However, the experimental mind isn't something that arose soley in post reformation Europe. The human mind's natural state is experimental, watch a toddler play with blocks.

Was the experiment to create a battery or to preserve scrolls? There is no evidence of electroplating that can be tied to the Baghdad Battery, early claims of this have been debunked, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a battery. Likewise, storing scrolls? When the sciences can't find an evidenced explanation for something out of the ordinary, the go with what they know. It's a safe bet, and it's not wrong, but science never posits that it's "the right answer", they accept the best available evidence until new evidence comes to light.

So, was the Baghdad Battery even a battery? Maybe, because an original intention of an experiment isn't always the experiment's outcome. Maybe somebody was experimenting with preserving documents, and discovered a spark when preparing there "archval bottle." Maybe somebody had some weird idea for some weird magic, and discovered something else. Maybe they had a sense that lightning could be made, drew some unscientific conclusions about the tastes of wine, iron and copper and stumbled upon a spark, but never took it further. None of my speculation is scientific, but it is societal.

At the time the computer revolution was being born in Silicon Valley, I was told by my science teacher at a Launceston, Tasmania high school, that it wasn't possible to make a computer out of an 8 bit microcontroller. Meanwhile, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were doing exactly that. Hacking is like that.

Baghdad Battery - Wikipedia.


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