Today I thought I’d present two quick stories about ancient high technology. The first comes to us from our friend Jason Martell, the ancient astronaut theorist and Ancient Aliens pundit who once asked his fans to send me hate mail. In his biography appearing on his JasonMartell.com website, I noticed that Martell makes a rather startling claim about his impact on history. The claim concerns the alleged Baghdad battery, a small clay jar that some have speculated might have been used to generate a small electrical current in the Roman era. The poor spelling and punctuation are as given in the original:
Most recently Mr. Martell garnered worldwide attention by recreating a working model of one of science's most profound mysteries - the "Baghdad Battery". Residing in the national museum of Iraq, the discovery of this 2,000 year old device suggests the modern day battery was not invented in 1800 by Count Alassandro Volt, but was in use two millennia earlier. Mr Martell's recreation was instrumental in proving the Baghdad Battery was capable of generating current.
Martell’s “recreation” couldn’t have been instrumental in “proving” anything since Martell was actually recreating earlier recreations dating back to World War II! In 1938 Wilhelm König excavated the small clay jars and speculated that they may have been used in electroplating, though he had no evidence of this. In 1940 William F. M. Gray of General Electric recreated one such jar, filled it with an electrolyte solution, and showed that it could generate a small current. In 1987 W. Jansen published a German-language article (“The battery of the Parthians and the gilding of the Bagdad goldsmiths” (in German), Chem. fur Labor Und Betrieh 38, no. 10 , 528-530 and 533) demonstrating the same thing with a different chemical solution. In 1980, Egyptologist Arne Eggebrecht claimed on Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World to have successfully electroplated a statue using such reproduction batteries in 1978, but mysteriously failed to document the achievement with written or photographic records.
Anyway, the point is that Martell is taking credit for other people’s work and implying he is much more important than he really is.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, fringe media recently went crazy over a photograph of an alleged Sumerian smartphone that had been circulating on Facebook and ancient astronaut websites since 2012. The craze led to newspapers like The Express and websites like Conspiracy Club and Mysterious Universe to publish credulous articles on the alleged artifact. Now Mysterious Universe writer Paul Seaburn is trying to explain exactly how he fell for so obvious a hoax after the artist who created the clay smartphone in 2012 has confirmed that the supposedly alien object was in fact an objet d’art modeled on an old Ericsson cell phone.
I had traced back the story to a Facebook posting, but was not able to find a working link to the original post. An investigator for Snopes.com was able to do what I couldn’t and found the original Facebook posting that connected the photograph to German sculptor Karl Weingärtner, who makes replica and fantasy objects based on historical models.
“The photo was used without my knowledge and without my consent,” Weingärtner told the Huffington Post this week. “It’s not what I wanted. I do not believe in UFOs and I do not believe in aliens.”
In addition to violating Weingärtner’s copyright, fringe media repeated one another’s claims without even cursory research to attempt to confirm that the object was a legitimately ancient artifact—this despite an absurd backstory that had the object found in the Austrian alps!
Seaburn, who now claims he doubted the story all along, was unapologetic and told the Huffington Post that he simply did not have time to check whether the story was true before telling his readers that the clay phone was likely an alien object. “I think I did the best I could under the circumstances while still trying to get the story up in a timely manner,” he said.
Strangely, I almost agree: I believe that being taken in by a hoax and copying uncritically from bad sources really is the best he could do.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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