In 1838, while working in what is now Iraq, German archeologist Wilhelm Konig found a number of clay jars, each containing an iron rod encased in a copper cylinder. Konig published a paper in which he theorized the objects were ancient batteries, or galvanic cells. That would be an amazing technological development, given the age of the objects – they date to the Parthian era, or about 200 BCE. According to Elizabeth Stone, a leading authority on Iraqi art and archeology, experts don’t subscribe to the battery theory.
An alternate theory suggests the containers were used for storing scrolls, which would have wrapped around the iron rod, and been contained in the copper cylinder. This theory has its roots in the Seleucia vessels, similar objects from a nearby ancient city.
Despite the opposition to Konig’s theory, Smith College Art History professor Dr. Marjorie Senechal had students build replicas of the device, which produced voltage. If they were batteries, they worked. Theories as to what such a battery would’ve been used for range from medicinal practices to printing money, creating metal plating, and making jewelry.