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The Riddle of Baghdad's Battery 1808

Posted by michael
from the three-bars-on-baghdad's-cell-phone dept.
Jodrell writes "The BBC has an interesting article about a 2,200 year old battery discovered in Iraq in 1938. It is basically a clay pot containing a copper/iron core immersed in an electrolye solution (probably acidic vinegar). The article talks about how this priceless artifact as well as many others, from the same civilisation that invented writing and the wheel, could be threatened by the impending war."
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The Riddle of Baghdad's Battery

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  • No! (Score:5, Funny)

    by leviramsey (248057) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:17PM (#5396433) Journal

    It's not a battery! It's a chemical weapon! Call Hans Blix!

    • Wrong! (Score:5, Funny)

      by cryptochrome (303529) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:43PM (#5396771) Journal
      Clearly this is evidence of Saddam's ancient efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, is a material breach of UN Resolution 1441, and constitutes a clear and present danger to the Bush Admi... er, the world.
      • Re:Wrong! (Score:5, Funny)

        by TopShelf (92521) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:52PM (#5396890) Homepage Journal
        Exactly - now it appears that they've had over 2,200 years to disarm, but haven't cooperated. Why wait for another UN resolution? They could keep stalling for centuries!
      • Re:Wrong! (Score:5, Funny)

        by OblvnDrgn (167720) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @01:13PM (#5397144)
        No no, this is evidence that Iraq isn't militaristic at all. As we all know, any proper Civilization that wanted to wage war on the other civilizations around it would've first developed Bronze Working, in order to get Phalanxes, and then Warrior Code. Clearly, if they took the time to invest in Writing, they're geared towards diplomacy. I'll bet you that the Wheel was just to use Chariots as scouts.
  • Priorities (Score:2, Insightful)

    by vicviper (140480)
    Some would say that removing Saddam is more important than any priceless artifacts.
    • Re:Priorities (Score:2, Insightful)

      Some would say it's not.
    • Re:Priorities (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Some would also realize that removing Saddam is the best way to preserve these artifacts. He would not hesistate to place military equipment right next to a archaelogical site just like he would put them next to a hospital.
    • Re:Priorities (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Wellspring (111524)
      Nuclear weapons in the hands of someone who's used WMD before and who has started 11 wars is certainly a greater concern if your job description says, "save the living" and not "advance archeology".

      BTW, priceless artifacts have been an issue in other cases. In the UK and America, artifacts are often, knowingly or not, destroyed as a consequence of land development (economic reasons).

      In Afghanistan, of course, the Taliban destroyed most of their most precious archeological artifacts for religious reasons. In Israel, a mosque built relatively recently (100-200 years ago) on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem has for years been the site of secretive excavations by Palestinian authorities trying to destroy Jewish artifacts from the Temple (political reasons, this time).

      The Library at Alexandria was destroyed by Islamic invaders. If I recall my history, the scrolls were burned to keep the hot baths running to calm a rebellious populace (entertainment reasons-- in fairness, I've heard this story disputed, BTW).

      So you see, destroying evidence of our precious history is nothing new. Whereever possible, we try to save things, but they are called ruins for a reason. Over the years, things get broken. It's just thermodynamics.

      So while we should protect these things where we can, we can't let ourselves get paralyzed from doing what we have to do to protect the lives of people who are still alive, such as those living in Iraq and America.
  • by Ars-Fartsica (166957) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:19PM (#5396454)
    Read some history. Iraq is not populated today by the same peoples that invented this device or "discovered the wheel" as you say thousands of years ago. The Islamic faith and the migrations of Arabic peoples into historically Persian regions over time has erased the cultural legacy of these peoples you refer to.
    • by Wateshay (122749) <bill.nagel@NOSpAM.gmail.com> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:23PM (#5396494) Homepage Journal
      I don't think it was saying they were. What it was saying was that the same people who invented the wheel and writing also invented this battery.
    • This may be true, but it's still part of the region's collective culture.

      You could say the same for Egypt, except they care for and maintain the pyramids and their heritage. Why should the people of Iraq be denied the same?
      • A "region" doesn't have a culture. A civilization has a culture, and when the population changes (as in this case), the culture is either adopted, modified or replaced entirely.

        Or would you claim that the city of Washington, DC has elements of American Indian culture because those peoples once lived there before being displaced?

        Absurd.
    • by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:26PM (#5396542) Homepage
      The same is true, of course, of England, and Spain, and Germany, and America (North and South). The Christian faith and the migrations of Roman, Germanic, and British people erased the cultural legacies of the peoples there.
    • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@gma ... minus herbivore> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:30PM (#5396587) Homepage
      They didn't say they were.

      The article talks about how this priceless artifact as well as many others, from the same civilisation that invented writing and the wheel, could be threatened by the impending war.

      They say specifically that the artifacts are in danger from the war, not the civilization. Nowhere do they imply that the civilization that created them is the same culture that inhabits Iraq now.
  • by Joe the Lesser (533425) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:20PM (#5396461) Homepage Journal
    Still going...

    *Bunny marches by...* *thump thump thump*
  • Like the article suggests, I'll bet it's for electroplating. Now we need to look for a bunch of copper core gold-plated jewelry in the area . . . some con artist must have been rich.
    • Re:eletroplating (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Randolpho (628485)
      I found that part of the article fascinating. I remember thinking that if they had electroplating at that time, could that have been a basis for the rumors of transmutation? Drop a hunk of lead into an electroplate bath; out comes a hunk of gold in exactly the same shape as the lead. To the untrained eye it would look exactly like solid gold.

      I also enjoyed the speculation that the batteries were used as religious icons. Get a little jolt touching the sacred statue... Now I've got great ideas for D&D adventures!

      All in all, an interesting read -- I consider my mind expanded by Slashdot. And here everyone thought Slashdot was only good for MS-bashing! ;)
  • by spakka (606417) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:20PM (#5396470)
    in my Nokia 8210
  • What? (Score:2, Insightful)

    The article talks about how this priceless artifact as well as many others, from the same civilisation that invented writing and the wheel, could be threatened by the impending war.

    And I suppose the artifacts never had anything to fear from Iraq being run by an expansionist, sadistic madman who is known to do things such as setting whole oil fields on fire.

    Sorry. I looked everywhere for guilt, but just couldn't find any.

  • Which is better? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stevens (84346)

    So we either (possibly) lose some priceless artifacts, or we lose priceless lives when the next terrorist strike comes.

    I know which one is more important. Do you?

  • by Goody (23843) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:25PM (#5396519) Journal
    was the big stone-carved vibrator that went with it...
  • by grimsweep (578372) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:25PM (#5396532)
    WASHINGTON, D.C.- President Bush has made the announcement today of an addition to the collection of evidence to make war with Iraq. "It's clear that this battery was used to power some sort of destructive device, and we're certain Sadaam's ancestors were a part of it," stated the commander-in-chief in a press conference yesterday.

    Subsequently, the defense department has changed Homeland Security status to Condition Copper, indicating a potentially shocking situation.

  • by VitrosChemistryAnaly (616952) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:26PM (#5396541) Journal
    The article states:
    Though this was hard to explain, and did not sit comfortably with the religious ideology of the time, he published his conclusions.

    How did identifying it as a battery conflict with religious ideology of the time? I'm truly curious. Any suggestions?

    I mean, it couldn't have been because there's no passage saying "And then God invented the battery and said it was good".

    Did it confict with the European idea that they were the center of science and religion?
    • by The Ape With No Name (213531) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:34PM (#5396645) Homepage
      Did it confict with the European idea that they were the center of science and religion?

      Actually, in a roundabout way, you are on the right track. One of the tenets of Orientalism is that Oriental cultures by definition are degenerate and in decline. Occidental cultures are, in contrast, always progressive, especially after the 14th Century CE. Occidental cultures are all European countries and their descendant cultures that are ruled by people who have European origins -- a notable exception being Slavs. So, the point is because this supposed technology rose from an Oriental culture it is either the product of interaction with ascendant Occidental culture or an anamoly. In either case, it must be erased. See Richard Perle and Wolfowitz for the contemporary personification of academics who think this way. It's called "the colonizer's model of the world."
  • ...when he invaded Kuwait in 1990 and his soldiers ransacked the museums:

    http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/sanction/ir aq 1/000801a.htm

    Tom
    • The Learning Channel [discovery.com] did a very nice special about this last year. An archeologist cross referenced the Hebrew garden/creation story of Eden with material from the Sumarian mythical Edin. Moden Iranians have turned the place into a dump, but if you move up into the surrounding mountains it it beautiful.
  • by istartedi (132515) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:28PM (#5396566) Journal

    Under the right circumstances, ordinary pieces of metal (like plumbing) exposed to acid can make "batteries" by chance. More intriguing is the "un batteried" iron obelisk I recall hearing about in India--an iron monument that has resisted rusting for hundreds of years.

    I think it's likely that the ancients put some vinegar in this metal container, discovered that it corroded badly, and threw it away.

    Of course we can't rule out that they knew something about electricity, but I think we need some clay tablets describing the use of electric devices to confirm it before we can say "ancient battery" with confidence.

    • by FreeUser (11483) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @01:31PM (#5397397)
      Under the right circumstances, ordinary pieces of metal (like plumbing) exposed to acid can make "batteries" by chance. More intriguing is the "un batteried" iron obelisk I recall hearing about in India--an iron monument that has resisted rusting for hundreds of years.

      That is very interesting in its own right. However,

      I think it's likely that the ancients put some vinegar in this metal container, discovered that it corroded badly, and threw it away.

      They've found at least 12 such primative batteries, so unless they were throwing away a bunch of defecting jars that all mysteriously resembled batteries far more closely than simple storage jugs, I think the idea that they suffered a little accidental corrosion and threw it away is rather unlikely.

      Virtually everyone believes these were primitive batteries, and used as such, but not to drive bronze age equivelent walkmans or the like. Rather, some believe it may have been to imbibe idols with magical "shocking" capabilities to lend credence to local religious cults, an invention that occurred likely by accident, reproduced by trial and error, and then applied (secretively) by the priests of Baal (or whatever cult was popular at the time) as a way to convice people of the divinity of their statue.

      That they were batteries designed to deliver a low amperage, fairly low voltage electrical current is pretty widely accepted. Why they were made, and what they were used for, is really anybody's guess at this point ... the secret seems to have died with the makers.
    • by watzinaneihm (627119) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @01:47PM (#5397592) Journal
      Just some clever mettalurgy here....
      The pillar you are referring to is in Delhi and its mystery has apparently been solved [expressindia.com]
      Apparently the metal had a high hydrogen content and formed a coating of "misawite" .
  • It can't be!! It is!!

    Its a precious Rimbaldi artifact. Its part of a weapon! Send in Jennifer Garner and the CIA goon squad. A little spandex, a red wig, and it will be ours!

  • by jayhawk88 (160512)
    So that's how Junis was powering his C-64...
  • by tomzyk (158497) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:31PM (#5396603) Journal
    And the Greeks kept electric eels in big wading pools and would walk into the water and get zapped. It doesn't mean they knew what electricity was; they just knew it felt cool to get a mild shock.

    I don't see how they can assume these are batteries when there is no evidence of wires or mechanical devices that would use the electricity.

    A few months ago I saw something on the Discovery Channel talking about all of this. They found similar things (bowls/pots with acid in them) in South America too. They said all of these most likely were for magical purposes (cool shock or possibly even coating/electro-plating jewelry), but not batteries.
    • I don't see how they can assume these are batteries when there is no evidence of wires or mechanical devices that would use the electricity.

      Just because you aren't powering a Walkman with it, doesn't make the device not a battery. It doesn't have to have x amount of charge to be a battery. If it allows chemical energy to be converted to electrical energy, there's your battery.
  • First war? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zjbs14 (549864) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:35PM (#5396662) Homepage
    The article talks about how this priceless artifact as well as many others, from the same civilisation that invented writing and the wheel, could be threatened by the impending war.

    This is the first war ever fought in the region in the last 2,000 years? Were people concerned about artifacts when Iran and Iraq were blowing the crap out of each other? Were people concerned when Saddam was constructing enormous builings for his personal use?

    Perspective... It's not just for breakfast anymore.

  • by Slightly Askew (638918) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:36PM (#5396674) Journal
    How much German, Japanese, and European history was destroyed in the early 20th century? Is history more important than the present? I believe there was a quote, maybe from Tokien, which said something about the folly of being more proud of who your ancestors were than who your children are. Some countries are willing to trade the freedom and safety of their children to preserve the memory of their ancestors. France did it in the early 20th, and they are apparently willing to do it again today. I, personally, don't have much respect for this type of elitist cowardice. If the destruction of a pottery battery will save a couple hundred Iraqi civilians from being detained, thrown in jail, and tortured, it's worth it.
  • by jellomizer (103300) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:37PM (#5396685)
    To say oh we cant go to war because there might be some artifacts that will be destroyed by it. Is pritty lame reasioning because these artificats have been around durring a lot more war then we will go thew in our lives. That area of the world is basicly War Central and has been sience before these artificats were created. So if dont go to war what will stop these people from testing their weapons and distroying these artifacts themselfs when testing their own armament. Or just by digging holes to hide there ileagal stuff.
  • by Titusdot Groan (468949) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:40PM (#5396722) Journal
    Threatened how? Will the US be targeting ancient batteries with their smart bombs? Will any land troops be looking in museums for for ancient clay pots to destroy? Should the US not invade Iraq simply because that this precious artifact may be destroyed? How did this thing survive the crusades and the Gulf War?

    Similarily, when the Taleban was destroying ancient Buddha's should this have been a reason to invade all by itself?

    I hate how every news article has to somehow relate to the cause of the day ...

  • by Embedded Geek (532893) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:43PM (#5396758) Homepage
    So what if they invented writing? Every culture has its contributions to world history and culture. What of Aztec culture when the Conquistadores (sic) conquered? Or the German Medieval sites that were wiped out by stray WWII bombs when the Allies bombed the Nazis? For that matter, what of the loss of a McDonalds in Moscow by a Chechen bomber? Is any of that bloodshed any less or more tragic because of the assosciated loss to world culture?

    To argue that a war should or should not be fought based on possible damage to historic artifacts is foolish. While such damage is a tragedy, it is nothing to the loss of human life. Personally, I'd be more concerned about the life of the night watchman at an archeological site than all the artifacts buried there.

    You can argue whether war with Iraq is justified, whether it will (or will not) in the long run save more lives than it will take. You can argue about the U.S. motives for the war or any of a thousand other things, but the decision to go to war or not should have nothing to do with a people's historic contributions or lack thereof. While the preservation of artifacts should enter the discussion about how to prosecute a war (i.e. don't intentionally shell that museum), it is today's people that should be the concern - Iraqis, their neighbors, and the rest of the world community.

    Everything else - ancient batteries or modern oilfields - they're just things.

  • Whiners (Score:3, Funny)

    by tsa (15680) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:47PM (#5396819) Homepage
    Come on! Batteries are meant to be thrown away. And if it's so oldd it's bound to be leaking and useless, so chuck it out please!
  • by mumblestheclown (569987) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @01:38PM (#5397482)
    I agree. The risks of potentially hurting the gutenberg press were much higher than freeing millions under naziism. We should have stayed in bed, or just rolled over like the french.
  • by whereiswaldo (459052) on Friday February 28, 2003 @12:33AM (#5403511) Journal
    Don't be surprised if three generations from now the truth about the ancient battery is uncovered:
    it was a mistake made in the future when someone went back to the past. They're probably laughing at us right now in another timeline because we don't get it.
  • hoax or a fake (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Martin S. (98249) <Martin DOT Spamer AT gmail DOT com> on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:18AM (#5405993) Homepage Journal
    The BBC has an interesting article about a 2,200 year old battery ...
    ... how this priceless artifact as well as many others...
    ... threatened by the impending war.


    This are is undoughtedly a hoax or a fake, If it was a battery it would show signs of electrolysis not corrosion, it does not it is also rather pointless without something to apply the power to, a light, motor, a transistor radio. It is probably an early 20th Century hoax or propaganda aimed at the appeasenicks and is to be expected from Saddam really.

    However you don't expect this type of sloppyness from the BBC. The article makes the automatic assumption that the West will be bombing museums, and by implication, schools hospitals etc. This is just plainly absurd. The BBC seem to have dropped their usual impartiality and integrity on this whole issue and adopted a pro-appeasenick position.

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