Archaeologists have discovered ancient Parthian batteries, but are unsure of their use. In this article, a modern tool and die maker gives the most likely explanation.
2000 Year-old Batteries Used to Electroplate Diamond-Tipped Cutting Tools:
An Explanation of Wilhelm Konigs’ Discovery.
I have read about Wilhelm Konig’s discovery of numerous two-thousand-year-old electric batteries. Konig, the Director of the Baghdad Museum, alleged that these pottery jars, which contained an acidic solution with a metallic element, were capable of generating a low voltage current. He then suggested that these batteries could have been used in an electroplating process to plate common low cost objects. He suggested that the gold or silver plated objects were used to impress or even to deceive buyers into thinking that they were solid gold or silver items.
I have also read Paul T Keyser’s alternative suggestion for the batteries. Keyser, a scholar from the University of Alberta, wrote an article in the prestigious archaeological Journal of Near Eastern Studies, pointing to analgesic treatment for pain relief. The fact that bronze and iron needles were found in Parthia alongside the battery devices supports his theory of acupuncture, with a small amount of low voltage current run to the needles.
I also believe that electroplating was the intent of these batteries—not to deceive merchants to buy a plated treasure—but to build or manufacture cutting tools. Diamond-tipped cutting tools are built today by placing a diamond at the cutting point of the tool or cutting edge. The tools are then electroplated with a copper solution. This slow build up of copper bonds the diamond to the cutting edge of the tool, which is the same process used today. Many high dollar diamond roll cutting wheels built today require very precise placement, or even hand settings, of the diamonds. Small sharp rods or needles, like the ones found alongside the battery devices found in Parthia, are used to place the diamond in layers at the cutting edge of the tool before they are plated.
A layering process of the electroplating is done to extend the life of the wheel. For example, diamond cutting and grinding wheels are rotated, with only the thin outer edge of diamonds contacting the stone that is being ground. The diamonds in this outer layer begin to dull and are pulled from the copper bond as the cutting pressure increases. The diamonds are placed in these layers so that as the diamonds become dull in the grinding process they are pulled from the cutting wheel, and a sharp new diamond, sitting just below it, is exposed. This method of layered diamonds is termed a self-sharpening super abrasive. Super abrasives have many applications, such as cutting and grinding steel, bronze, copper, glass, and of course stone. The last of these, stone, has the most efficient results. Super abrasive tools can be anything from a thin steel disk with a thin layer of diamonds on the outer diameter to a large complex cast form with diamonds hand set over the outside diameter of the casting. They can be used to cut gear teeth, drill holes, shape spindles, or cut and size the granite blocks used in inspection labs today.
One of the most common ways to make this cutting tool is to hand set diamonds on steel or aluminum wheels using a small needle type tool. After the diamonds are set in place, the tool is then placed into a tank of acid copper. When a low voltage is applied, a copper layer builds over time to lock the diamonds into place.
Today, microscopic manmade diamonds are used in the process described previously. Two thousand years ago, the waste product of the diamond industry would have functioned very well when utilized as the cutting instruments placed in these electroplated wheels. Diamond waste, bonded to any cast iron or bronze surface, would match any diamond-grinding wheel built currently. Two thousand years ago, this technology would have been worth more than its weight in gold or silver.
I believe that low voltage electroplating of diamonds to wheels, disks, drills, chisels, and surface plates is a perfect explanation of the batteries and iron-bronze needles discovered by Konig. It is a practical idea, because low voltage plating and needle type placement tools are still in use today to make the same super-abrasive grinding tools. While reading about ancient stone structures, such as the temple in Jerusalem and its massive stone foundation, I am amazed at the precision of the stone edges and the specific alignment of stone next to stone. I have often thought the only way to produce that kind of square, flat, and accurate fit repeatedly is with the use of super abrasive cutting tools.
- Gerald Filipek