Popular Science Monthly/Volume 22/December 1882/Popular Miscellany

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 22 December 1882  (1882) 
Popular Miscellany


The Flora of North America.—Professor Asa Gray gave an historical account, at the last meeting of the American Association, of the study and compilation of the North American flora. The first "Flora" of the country was published by Michaux, in 1803. It embraced plants representing the whole region from Hudson Bay to Florida, and contained 1,530 species. The work of Pursh followed about twenty years afterward, and represented a much smaller territory, not extending west of Virginia or north of Lake Champlain, but contained 740 genera and 3,700 species. Dr. Gray himself started on his great botanical work in 1 830, while he was an assistant in a doctor's office in New York. It is not exactly known when Dr. John Torrey conceived the idea of publishing a third "Flora of North America," but he invited Nuttall to join him in the work as early as 1832. Arrangements were afterward made with Dr. Gray, and the first volume of the conjoint work was issued in 1838. It was generally thought that the orders remaining to be described could be soon worked out, and the "Flora" completed, but the rapid publication which the fulfillment of such an anticipation required was not possible. Dr. Torrey had already been to Europe and spent a considerable time in the study of foreign herbaria. Dr. Gray also visited Europe at the end of 1838, and spent several months in the same work, paying especial attention to the American herbaria of Michaux, Pursh, De Candolle, and others. A second volume of 500 pages appeared in 1840, and carried the "Flora" to the end of the Compositæ. The work was then interrupted by the pressure of other duties, so that the third volume was not added to the series till 1880. The labor of pushing the work to completion is very difficult now compared with what Pursh endured when the species were fewer and the number of specimens collected of each was many times less. The first volume of the present "Flora" contained about twice as many species as Pursh gave for the same orders; and the number of species in these families has increased greatly in the thirty years since its publication. American flowering plants can not now be represented with less than 10,000 species, and the number is increasing daily, so that soon 12,000 may be required. The amount of material collected is vast; additions are constantly pouring into the Harvard herbarium, and the time of the compilers is severely taxed to work it over. The work in the future must be divided up among many persons, each doing a part; and Dr. Gray earnestly solicits the co-operation of all botanists.


The Proposed Geological Map of Europe.—The International Geological Congress, which met at Bologna last year, decided upon the preparation of a geological map of Europe, which should exemplify a uniform terminology and a uniform system of coloring, and appointed an International Committee to superintend the work. The execution of the map will, of course, require many years, but its general plan and the regulations under which it is to be carried on have been already provisionally agreed upon. The map is to be published at Berlin, under the immediate direction of Messrs. Beyrich and Hauchecorne, of the Royal Prussian Geological Institute. The data from each nation will be furnished through its representative on the International Committee, if it has one; or, if it is a small state, and is not thus represented, by its vice-presidents in the Congress. The map will include the whole basin of the Mediterranean and all of Europe to the eastern slope of the Ural Mountains, and will be made upon a scale of 1 to 1,500,000. It will therefore cover a space of 372 by 336 centimetres, or about twelve by eleven feet, and will, for convenience of use and binding, be divided into forty-nine sections of about twenty-two by sixteen inches each. The primary object of the map will be to give a clear representation of geological conditions. It will not be practicable consistently with this to give particular attention to orographical details. The river systems, the principal towns, the more important mountain-ranges, and the curves indicating sea-depths, will be denoted so far as seems fitting. The topographical basis of the map is to be reconstructed on the proposed scale under the supervision of Professor H. Kiepert, of Berlin. The total expense of the work is estimated at 80,000 marks, or in the neighborhood of $20,000, and is to be borne by the states interested, the eight largest states contributing each one ninth, and the smaller states together the other ninth, of the whole. The subscription price for the first edition will be 80 marks, or about $20, a copy of the whole map. The price will afterward be raised to 100 marks, or $25.


Origin of Petroleum.—The Huron and Cleveland (Devonian) black shales of Ohio contain from 2 to 22 per cent of organic matter, which Dr. Newberry regards as of marine origin, and are the source of some of the petroleum-wells. Decomposition has been carried on so far that all structure seems to have been obliterated; but Dr. Orton stated, in a paper read before the American Association, that he had discovered the organic substance to consist of sporangia or spore-cases of Lycopodiaceæ. He had found numerous resinous disks of from 1200 to 150 of an inch in diameter, translucent, amber-colored, appearing as a rusty crust, with ridged and furrowed surfaces, burning freely, insoluble in alcohol, and sometimes having stem-like attachments. Different beds afford disks of different sizes. The Pennsylvania and New York petroleum wells originate in the equivalent of the Ohio black shales.


A Medal to Pasteur.—A medal commemorative of his remarkable discoveries was presented to M. Pasteur at the sitting of the French Academy of Sciences, June 26th, by M. Dumas, on behalf of a committee of scientific men and friends and admirers of the distinguished investigator. M. Dumas reviewed briefly the great services M. Pasteur had rendered to science, art, and industry, through his researches among the vital organisms of fermentation, and closed by saying: "My dear Pasteur, your life has only known successes. The scientific method, of which you make certain use, owes you its finest triumphs. The Normal School is proud to count you among the number of its students; the Academy of Sciences is elated at your researches; France ranks you among her glories. . . . Science, agriculture, industry, humanity, will feel eternal gratitude to you, and your name will live in their annals among the most illustrious and the most venerated." Pasteur replied modestly, acknowledging his obligations to his teachers, and said: "Hitherto great eulogies have inflamed my ardor, and only inspired the idea of rendering myself worthy of them by new efforts; but those which you have addressed to me, in the name of the Academy and of learned societies, truly overpower me."


Were the Mound-Builders Indians?—Dr. Hoy read a paper at the American Association in support of the view that the mound-builders were the ancestors of our present Indian race. He held that the age of the mounds had been exaggerated. The growth of large trees upon them is not certain evidence of great age, for some trees grow very fast. It was also a mistake to suppose that the mound-builders could be distinguished from Indians by their being an agricultural people. The Indians have largely tilled the ground. De Soto lived with his army four years among the Indians of the South, and quartered his two hundred and eleven horses for forty days in one spot. The absence of traditions about the mound builders can not be regarded as evidence of separate origin; it is a fact that the Winnebagoes and Menomonees have no traditions going as far back as to Marquette, or even to John Carver, not a century ago; and, in truth, their traditions are so short that they deny that the Indians ever used stone arrow-heads. The author concluded that there was abundant evidence of an Indian origin in the mounds—including the finding of European implements in them that must have been placed there when they were made—from the Gulf of Mexico to Northern Wisconsin.

Dr. Hoy also discussed the question of the origin of the copper implements that are found in the neighborhood of Lake Superior. He remarked that the explorers of the St. Lawrence, Lake Superior, and the Eastern coast, all say that the Indians had these implements, and that the copper-mines of Lake Superior show no evidences of great antiquity. The Chippewas and Winnebagoes both have copper ornaments. Professor Butler has a copper spear-head, plowed up in Wisconsin, containing part of an iron rivet, which had doubtless been made or used after the Indians had traded with the whites, and had had access to iron. The author was of the opinion that the Indians of the Lake Superior district made copper implements for themselves, and also for extensive barter, and did not see how any reasonable man could assert that the Indians knew nothing about the use of the native metal. Professor Putnam discussed the same subject in his paper on the North American copper implements and ornaments under his charge in the Peabody Museum. He had no doubt that the Indians used copper, and that its use was contemporary with that of polished stone implements. The native copper was hammered, not molded, into shape; and the speaker described the way in which the processes were carried out. Some ornaments that had been connected with Christianity were really only shaped as they were easiest to make. Some classical-looking ear-rings were shown, which had been made from native copper beaten out.


Formation of Prairies.—Mr. H. D. Valin, of Chicago, has proposed a new theory to account for the formation of prairies and the elevation of the country west of the Mississippi. Noticing that the prairies rest generally on Silurian rocks, he believes that they represent ground which has always been inundated, or subject to periodical overflows. The waters, when high, washed away the rocks of the bluffs, and deposited on the level surface beneath them the clay resulting from the erosion; while the detritus forming the sod of the prairie dates always from the last inundation. The constant exposure of the prairie-soil to submersion accounts for the absence of trees. The land has risen partly by deposition, but in large part also because of the elasticity of the earth's surface, "which, like matter in general, always tends toward an equilibrium. For instance, the highest mountains weigh about the same on the surface of the earth that the deepest ocean does, otherwise their respective levels would come into one. Now, as the detritus of the rocks is carried by streams into the sea, the porous material grows heavier, though not increased in size, and the equilibrium is forcibly reestablished by a slow upheaval of the land. The pressure exerted laterally by such upheaval is, likely, the origin of volcanoes, geysers, and earthquakes."


Physiological Analogies of the Roman Letters.—Professor A. Melville Bell, in explaining the system of "visible speech" at the late meeting of the American Association, remarked that something like a physiological principle may be found to pervade our Roman alphabet. The actions of the lips, the most obvious of the speech-organs, would naturally be the most definitely indicated; and it is among the labial letters that we find the most numerous illustrations of an apparently physiological basis. The rounded form of the lips in pronouncing is, for example, very suggestive of the circle, which is the emblem of that element; and in the letter B we have a perfect representation of the profile of the closed lips. The letter P as compared with B, seems to suggest a sound of similar organic production, but lacking something of the B sound—and this is the exact physiological relation of the elements. B and P are alike, excepting that B has a vocal murmur, which is wanting in P. The letters P and F present another instance of physiological consistency, the closed part of P being opened in F, as if to indicate a sound of similar formation without obstruction of the breath. The letter C exhibits the outline of the back of the tongue in pronouncing the hard sound of the letter, and the kindred letter G consistently shows an element of similar formation, but with the addition of something that is lacking in C. The letter K, a duplicate for the sound of C hard, consists of a C, angular instead of rounded, in contact with a posterior line, and thus very suggestively denotes the action of the tongue against the roof of the mouth. The letter T, in the same way, appears to denote the position of the tongue in pronouncing the sound; the roof of the mouth being denoted by the horizontal line, while the vertical line shows the upward direction of the tongue to contact with the palate.


Antiquity of Man in America.—"The Geological Testimony to the Antiquity of Man in America" was considered by Professor Willis De Hass, in a carefully prepared paper which he read at the American Association. After referring to a skeleton disinterred at Natchez, Mississippi, of very uncertain antiquity, and the remains yielded by the Trenton gravel formation, which he was disposed to place at even a pre-glacial period, the speaker mentioned the caverns as constituting the best sources of information as to human antiquities. They show evidences of an existence of man on this continent long antedating the mound period, and would, he had no doubt, hereafter become as celebrated for human antiquities as were the caverns of Belgium and France. He attributed the ancient copper-workings of Lake Superior to a prehistoric race, and asserted that a greater amount of labor had been performed by its miners in a space of less than two thousand acres than two thousand men working twenty years could perform in our time. All the mines of the Lake Superior region, he added, gave evidence of having been wrought by a prehistoric race. Professor De Hass did not, however, consider that the mounds and mural works of the West and South bore evidence of a high antiquity—or of more, perhaps, than two thousand years. They might be assigned to a people intermediate between the mound-builders and the Indians.


Ancient Cults among the Berbers of Morocco.—Dr. Haliburton, of Ontario, has taken advantage of a recent sojourn in Morocco to study the vestiges of ancient cults of Europe and Asia which are still preserved among the Berber tribes. Here he found the crude stories of the twelve labors of Hercules, of Apollo, of Minerva, of Isis and Osiris, of Belus and Astarte. Numerous observations indicated that here, too, must have been the home of the myth of Saturn and of the golden apples of the Hesperides. A very interesting part of the paper on this subject communicated to the American Association by Dr. Haliburton was the mention of many names and stories connecting these people with the Bible, such as those of the gold of Ophir, the Queen of Sheba, the land of Havilah, and of the vessels of beaten gold and silver in the temples. On the last point the speaker dwelt at length, presenting numerous brass and silver works and jewelry, made by the Shillooks in our own day. The fables of Atlas and the Atlantes were traced in the very cradle of the people themselves. The fable of the head of Medusa was traced to this place in accordance with the story of Herodotus, that it arose from the custom of the people of a certain region wearing leather trappings on their heads. Dr. Haliburton showed a leather ornament of a powder-horn with a fringed leather border, like that on a Sioux saddle-ornament, and similar to those described by Herodotus. The whole paper was full of allusions to classic mythology and Biblical story.


The American Indians and the Aryan Race.—"Have the Indians come from Europe?" was the subject of a paper read by Horatio Hale, of Clinton, Ontario, at the recent meeting of the American Association. After tracing the course of emigration of the leading stocks of the Indian tribes, as indicated by their languages, and the modifications they seemed to have undergone, the author remarked that the fact that the course of emigration seems to have been from the Atlantic coast toward the interior might be regarded as evidence that the ancestors of our Indian tribes were emigrants from Europe. Reference was made, in support of this view, to the close resemblance in structure between the Basque and the Indian languages. It was suggested, also, that if the Aryan intruders, entering Europe from the East, encountered and absorbed a population resembling the American aborigines, the fact would account for the great change which the Aryan speech underwent in Central and Western Europe. It would also account for the remarkable change which took place in the character of the intruding race. The Aryans, who in the East have always been a submissive and contemplative race, devoid of the idea of popular government, became, in Europe, a high-spirited, practical, and liberty-loving people. Mr. Hale concluded that the natives of modern Europe were a people of mixed race, forming a transition, in physical and mental traits, between the Eastern Aryans and the aboriginal Americans.


Wine from Beets.—Induced by the havoc wrought among the French vines by the phylloxera, the Messrs. Brin, of Paris, have patented processes for making red and white wines from red and white beets. The roots may be used raw, but it has been found preferable to cook them. Perfectly sweet and clean roots are chosen, and after being cooked are reduced to a pulp. The juice is then pressed out and strained, and put into vessels of wood or cement, but not of metal, with a certain quantity of water, if desired, to ferment. This process is aided by admitting steam or hot water through serpentine coils placed in the receivers, and adding some of the ordinary ferments, and alcohol, according to the degree of strength that is wanted. After fermentation the whole is strained with tannin. The wine obtained by this process is said to possess all the properties of wine from grapes, and is treated henceforth like grape-wine. It is well adapted, by virtue of its sacchariferous qualities, to improve wines poor in sugar and rich in tannin. The red wine, moreover, is good for adding color to other wines that need it. The white wine is supposed to be improved by the addition of a little nitric acid at the moment of fermentation, after which the whole is "well shaken."


Analogies of Ancient Old World and American Customs.—Dr. Phené called attention in the American Association to some hitherto unnoticed affinities between ancient customs in America and other continents. He mentioned customs which have been shown to have existed in the great river valleys of our countries or have been revealed in the mounds, that had parallels in various European and Asiatic countries. Among them were those indicated by the occurrence of figures of serpents, alligators, or mythical dragons, and the human form, the characteristic features of which were curiously persistent in each case. Some of the shapes of the semi-barbaric age of Mexico corresponded with forms in Devonshire and South Wales. In the vicinity of some such figures of this character in the west and east of the south of England were enormous intaglio representations of the human form corresponding to the intaglio forms at Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Drawing attention to several other apparent correspondences, the speaker said that they were the result of a practice and culture transmitted with concurrent customs by way of the Pacific from one continent to another.


Russian Geological Research.—The mining department of the Russian Government has founded a geological institute for the purpose of centralizing all geological research in Russia, and preparing a detailed geological map of the empire. The empire has been explored geologically in a general fashion by several men of science, who have given accounts of observations, the most complete of which is that of the English geologist Murchison. This is still a classic work, and all recent geological maps of Russia are only improved editions of the one prepared by him. A continuous series of geological expeditions, which have considerably advanced the knowledge of Russian geology, have been conducted by the mining department and private scientific societies in connection with the universities; but all these researches have wanted the system and connection which can be given them only by referring them to some central organization and direction like the newly established institute.


Action of Citric Acid on Minerals.—Professor H. C. Bolton read a third paper at the recent meeting of the American Association on the decomposition of minerals by citric acid, detailing the results of his later researches on the subject. Some of the conclusions expressed in the first of his two previous papers were modified in the second paper, in view of the results obtained by the prolonged action of the acid. In the third series of experiments Professor Bolton found that many species which resist the brief action of a boiling concentrated solution of citric acid are more or less completely decomposed by prolonged contact with the same solution at the ordinary temperature of the work-room. He has drawn up a table, in accordance with the last series of tests, of thirty-two minerals or classes of minerals which are classified as those that are quickly, slowly, very slowly, or not, decomposed by citric acid.

In an American Association paper Dr. Britton describes a Post-Tertiary, pre-glacial deposit, near Bridgeton, New Jersey, compact enough to furnish a building material, which contains casts of the shells of the hard clam, with silicified wood, and in which very fine impressions of leaves—including those of the sweet-gum, or liquidambar, viburnum, zizania, and elm—are occasionally found.