The Writing Hook
You are at the deepest part of the dungeon. As you open the heavy wooden door you are blinded by an intense white light emanating from somewhere in the room. A sole, sealed urn stands at the middle of the room. Exiting its seal, a glittering, metal-like rope extends to the ceiling of the room where a glass bowl is connected. The bowl itself emanates light like a small sun, casting shadows all over it and warming up the damp room.
The Historical Facts of the Baghdad Battery
Sitting in the National Museum of Iraq is an earthenware jar about the size of a man’s fist. Its existence could require history books throughout the world to be rewritten. We try to keep our writing hooks as close to historical fact, so for this one, specifically we have to note that, there is a lot of speculation about the actual usage of the battery. Having said that we decided to include this in our writing hooks collection because, although not official, there are a lot of evidence to back this up.
According to most texts the “voltic pile,” or electric battery, was invented in 1800 by the Count Alassandro Volta. Volta had observed that when two dissimilar metal probes were placed against frog tissue, a weak electric current was generated. Volta discovered he could reproduce this current outside of living tissue by placing the metals in certain chemical solutions. For this, and his other work with electricity, we commemorate his name in the measurement of electric potential called the volt.
The little jar in Baghdad suggests that Volta didn’t invent the battery, but reinvented it. The jar was first described by German archaeologist Wilhelm Konig in 1938. It is unclear if Konig dug the object up himself or located it within the holdings of the museum, but it is known that it was found, with several others, at a place called Khujut Rabu, just outside Baghdad.
The jars are believed to be about 2,000 years old and consist of an earthenware shell, with a stopper composed of asphalt. Sticking through the top of the stopper is an iron rod. Inside the jar the rod is surrounded by a cylinder of copper. Konig thought these things looked like electric batteries and published a paper on the subject in 1940.
The Baghdad Battery consist of terracotta pots approximately 130 mm (5 in) tall (with a one-and-a-half-inch mouth) containing a cylinder made of a rolled copper sheet, which houses a single iron rod. At the top, the iron rod is isolated from the copper by bitumen, which plugs or stoppers, and both rod and cylinder fit snugly inside the opening of the jar.
The copper cylinder is not watertight, so if the jar were filled with a liquid, this would surround the iron rod as well. The artifact had been exposed to the weather and had suffered corrosion. König thought the objects might date to the Parthian period, between 250 BC and AD 224, but according to St John Simpson of the Near Eastern department of the British Museum, their original excavation and context were not well-recorded, and evidence for this date range is very weak.
Furthermore, the style of the pottery is Sassanid (224-640). Most of the components of the objects are not particularly amenable to advanced dating methods. The ceramic pots could be analysed by thermoluminescence dating, but this has not yet been done; in any case, it would only date the firing of the pots, which is not necessarily that of the complete artifact.
How would you use this writing hook for your writing or role-playing campaigns? How would you make this writing hook better? Do you think that the Baghdad Battery is a battery, thousands of years ahead of its time? Let us know in the comments below!
Looking for more inspiration? Why not try last week’s writing hook, Writing Hook #7 The Voynich Manuscript