Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/December 1873/Miscellany

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MISCELLANY.

The Coal-Fields of China.— The coal-fields of the Chinese Empire cover an area of 400,000 square miles, and yet China imports large quantities of coal from England. In the great province of Hunan, says Iron, a coal-field extends over an area of 21,700 square miles. Hunan boasts of two distinct coal-beds, one bearing bituminous coal, and the other anthracite—the latter being favorably situated for water-transit, covering an area equal to that of the anthracite coal-fields of Pennsylvania, and yielding anthracite of the best quality. The coal-area of the province of Shansi is 30,000 square miles, enough to supply the whole world for thousands of years, even at the present rapid rate of consumption. An immense supply of iron-ore adds to the mineral wealth of this great province.

If it be asked, in view of these facts, why it is that China imports foreign coal, we have only to consider the methods of mining followed by the Chinese, and the want of good roads, in order to get a satisfactory reply. The mode of working, says the writer in Iron, is at once tremendously severe and ludicrously ineffectual: the shafts are not perpendicular, but are inclined planes, 400 or 500 feet in length, running down a slant of about 45°. Up this slant the men carry the coal in baskets, one being attached to each end of a short carrying pole, which is borne upon the left shoulder. The shafts are about seven feet high, and about the same width, with a wooden roof, beams on both sides for support, and wood along the floor, so arranged as to form steps, up which the miner pulls himself by catching the projection of a step above him with a small curved staff, which he carries in his right hand. Even with cheap labor, this barbarous method proves expensive.

But the great difficulty is conveyance. The famous canals of the Chinese Empire are confined to the lower basin of the Yangtze. The roads are simply in a state of nature. Mere lines of deep ruts mark the track of the primitive vehicles of the country. The only repairs are effected by the rains, which wash them level; and then the sun hardens the slushy mass. In some provinces two- wheeled vehicles are employed, but in the central provinces only the primeval wheel-barrow, and in the hilly districts these rude machines give way to beasts of burden. The cost of transportation is, of course, enormous. In the province of Shansi, coal which costs about 25 cents per ton at the mine rises to six dollars at the distance of 30 miles; so that only those who live almost at the pit's mouth derive any benefit from the coal-mines of the Celestial Empire. This difficulty, amounting almost to impossibility of transit, presses with equal weight upon every department of Chinese industry. The crops are splendid, but there are no means of reaching the market, and the apathy produced by the want of means of transit amply explains why famine is a chronic scourge in the land of plenty.

The introduction of a railway system into China would not only enrich the proprietors, but would confer immeasurable benefit on the inhabitants of the country. It has been proposed to tap the great province of Hunan by extending a railway from Upper Burmah to the confines of the Celestial Empire, and there is little doubt that within a few years the shriek of the steam-whistle will be heard within the confines of the "Empire of the Sun and Moon."

 

Sericulture in Brazil.—The Italian newspapers, says La Nature, give some interesting information with regard to the measures now being taken in Brazil to forward the production of a silk yielded by a peculiar species of butterfly, which is as yet but little known in that country, and quite unknown in Europe. This butterfly (Bombyx saturnia), commonly called the porta-espejos, has a spread of wings four times as great as that of the common silk-worm moth. The caterpillar feeds on the leaves of the Ricinus communis and also of the Anacardium Occidentale. The cocoon differs very widely in appearance from the common cocoon. It is enveloped in a bag-like pellicle, resembling cobweb, which being removed, the cocoon is found to be oval. In color it is grayish, and its tissue differs from that of European cocoons in being wove like a bird's-nest. The caterpillar does not shut itself quite up in the cocoon, but leaves an opening, through which it escapes in the imago-shape.

The Bombyx saturnia works rapidly, completing the cocoon in three weeks; in three weeks more it quits it; and thus the silk-harvest takes up only six or seven weeks. The process of filature, or of unwinding the threads of the cocoon, is very simple, the threads, owing to the peculiar structure of the cocoon, being very readily separated from one another by the action of warm water. The fibre possesses considerable strength. One thread, twelve inches long, will bear a weight of sixty-two grains, and a cord of fifty-four threads a weight of over two pounds. The thread, however, is somewhat coarse, but efforts are being made to get it of greater fineness so as to fit it for weaving into fabrics and spinning into sewing-thread. If this Brazilian fibre passes successfully through its period of trial and experiment, it will give the world a very cheap silk, the cost of production being much less than that of European silk. The cocoon is found in great quantities in the north of Brazil. The caterpillar feeds on the tree, and withstands the inclemency of the weather. The tree is so abundant that whole ship-loads of cocoons might be collected.

 

The Descent of Man..—M. Gabriel de Mortillet, at the recent meeting of the French Association, after showing that certain flints found in tertiary strata bear evidences of human workmanship, goes on to prove that this tertiary precursor of man was not identical in species with the man of the present period. "If there is one fact well established," says he, "and admitted by all, it is this: that there is a succession of faunæ from one geological period to another. From stratum to stratum the fauna is modified, the animals change, and these modifications, these changes, are all the more marked in proportion as the strata are wider apart. Between two strata in contact there may exist species in common, but strata widely separated from one another have different species, and even different genera, in case they lie very wide apart. These changes occur all the more rapidly in proportion as the animals possess a more complicated organization. Thus the mollusca, having a less complicated organization than the mammals, have sometimes a far more protracted existence as species. Certain shells are found identical in two strata, in which the mammalian faunæ are very widely different. These are not mere hypotheses, but scientific data, based on direct observation of facts.

"Now, since the formation of the calcareous strata of Beauce and of the loam-deposit at Thenay, in which chipped flints are found, the mammalian faunæ was completely renewed at least three times. The differences between the mammals of the Beauce limestone and the mammals of the present period are not only sufficient to characterize distinct species, but have appeared sufficient in the eyes of zoologists to warrant their classification into special genera. The mammals of the level of the Beauce limestone and of the Thenay loam all belong, almost without exception, to extinct genera—genera nearly allied to those at present existing, but yet quite distinct from them. How, then, could man, who has a most complicated organization, alone escape the action of this law? We must therefore conclude that, if, as every thing leads us to presume, the Thenay flints bear the evidences of intentional chipping, they are the work, not of the present human species, but of another species of man, possibly even of a genus the precursor of man, which would serve to fill up one of the gaps in the zoological series."

 

An Ancient Papyrus.—The King of Saxony has purchased, and placed in the Leipsic Library, an Egyptian papyrus on the preparation of medicines, which was found at Thebes by Dr. Ebers. It is a beautiful yellow papyrus, in a good state of preservation. It consists of 110 columns, and has written on the back a double calendar in eight columns. Each column is eight inches wide, and contains twenty-two lines. The writing is from right to left; it is all in black ink, except the beginnings of chapters, which are in red ink. The characters are distinct, bold, and tasteful, and the priest who traced them must have been an artist. Their form, says La Nature, from which we gather these particulars, would appear to fix the seventeenth century b. c. as the date of the manuscript; and the fact that in the calendar the name of King Ra-ser-ka (Amenophis I.) is mentioned proves that the papyrus is not posterior to the first half of that century.

The work itself dates from a period more remote than the transcription on papyrus. It is known that the most ancient Egyptian writings were works about medicine. Manetho tells us that the Egyptians honored one of their first kings as a physician. This assertion is confirmed not only by the fragment of papyrus of Brugsh and Chabas, preserved in the Berlin Museum, but also by the present document.

The first chapter of the papyrus treats of the original production of the book, which came from the Temple of On (Heliopolis). Then follow the remedies employed for the cure of various diseases, together with extensive details as to diseases of the eye, remedies against the falling off of the hair, for sores, fevers, the itch, etc. The chapter devoted to the mistress of the house is succeeded by one about the house itself, which insists on the importance of cleanliness, and tells how to banish insects, to exclude them from houses, to prevent serpents from coming out of their holes, to avoid the stings of gnats and the bites of fleas, and to disinfect clothing and dwellings. Then there is a treatise on the relations between soul and body, with secret methods of studying the heart and its movement.

After giving this general description of the papyrus, which he ascribes to the time of the early Pharaohs, very shortly after Menes, Ebers apologizes for not having studied it more profoundly, for the want of literary resources during his travels. But he promises that he will decipher it completely with the aid of his colleagues, though the task is one that will require several years of labor. He hopes that, with the aid of the various translations of the Bible, he will succeed in determining the meaning of the names of certain diseases hitherto unascertained. He will furthermore get assistance from ancient Egyptian writings, from the dictionaries of the Semitic languages, and from some Greek works which are essentially of the same nature as this papyrus, especially from a work by Dioscorides. There occur, according to Ebers, 100 words in the papyrus which are altogether new. Of course it is not expected that the work will throw any light on physiology, pathology, or therapeutics; still, it will be interesting for the information it will supply as to the history of medicine in remote ages.

 

The Weeping-Willow.—The pleasant tradition that made this the tree on which the captives of Sion, at Babylon, hung their harps, has been lately disproved by the investigations of Karl Kock. He shows that the Hebrew word "Garab," used by the poet David, refers to a poplar, and not a willow. This willow, because of the current belief, Linnæus named Salix Babylonica. That the tree was not a willow, Ranwolf had concluded long ago. Among systematists the Linnæan specific name will have to give way to that of Salix pendula (Mœnch). The hardiness of the drooping willow indicates a climate colder than that of Mesopotamia, and it is now regarded as of Chinese or Japanese origin.

 

An Ancient Well in Illinois.—A correspondent, writing from Fulton, Whitesides County, Illinois, gives the following particulars of the discovery of an ancient well in that locality, which he thinks is deserving of further investigation. Some twenty years since, a farmer, living on a high and dry rolling prairie, about sixteen miles from the Mississippi, in Whitesides County, dug a well in his yard. The first five feet dug through consisted of mould and clay, the next twenty-two feet of sand and gravel, and the succeeding five feet of black muck. In the midst of this black earth the remains of an old well were struck, the centre of the new excavation falling within six inches of the centre of the old one. This ancient well was stoned up in a workmanlike manner, the stones, in the opinion of the mason employed, having been laid in a sand-and-lime cement. It was filled with the mucky material composing the stratum in which it was found; and, on clearing out a portion of this, water in the desired quantity was obtained. The curb of the old well, after the removal of a few of the top stones, was made the foundation of the new curbing, which was carried upward to the surface. The thirty-two feet of earth overlying the old well had never before been turned up.

Our informant, Mr. George M. Woodward, adds that these statements were originally taken down from the lips of the farmer himself, who, though not now living on this farm, is still accessible; and that they are received as facts by all the intelligent old settlers of the vicinity.

 

Scientific Prediction verified. — A striking example of the great accuracy attainable in scientific prediction is found in the history of the Mont Cenis Tunnel. Before the work was commenced, two eminent savants, M. Elie de Beaumont and Signor Sismonda, had expressed the opinion that, in proceeding from France to Italy, the following rocks would be met with: 1. A bed of schist, with anthracite, having a thickness of from 5,000 to 6,500 feet. 2. A bed of very hard quartzite, with a thickness of from 1,300 to 1,900 feet. 8. Compact limestone, with gypsum, anhydrite, and dolomite, having a thickness of from 6,000 to 9,000 feet. 4. A series of calcareous schists, 23,000 to 27,000 feet in thickness. Messrs. Beaumont and Sismonda said that no igneous rocks would be encountered, all the formations in these parts of the Alps belonging to the stratified rock.

Actual experience corresponded very closely with the predictions of science. First, there occurred the schists, with carboniferous sandstones, containing veins of anthracite: thickness, 6,45315 feet. Then the quartzites: thickness, 1,25534 feet. Next, beds of gypsum, anhydrite, and dolomite, with a thickness of 7,72613 feet. Finally, calcareous schists for the remaining 28,323 feet of the tunnel.

 

The Brain and the Mind. — Dr. Burt G. Wilder's paper, before the American Scientific Association, on "Variations in the Cerebral Forms and Fissures of Domestic Dogs," contains some very interesting criticisms of the various methods followed in studying the relations between brain and mind. There is, first, the phrenological method, wherein the skull is accepted as an index of the brain. But the fallaciousness of this method is shown: 1. By anatomy, in that no definite correspondence whatever exists between folds and fissures of the brain and the outer surface of the skull. 2. By the fact that no phrenologist has ventured to draw the accepted map of the mental faculties on the surface of the brain itself. 3. By the failure, in many cases, of the most expert phrenologists to define character by an examination of the head. The pathological method is equally unproductive of satisfactory results. This method proceeds by comparing brain-lesions with mental phenomena observed during the life of the individual. But the patrons of this method are not yet agreed as to the special function of the cerebellum, nor as to the localization of the faculty of speech. Then, too, there is good reason for supposing that peculiar mental conditions may exist without recognizable brain-lesion, and vice versa. Finally, Dr. Wilder asserts, on the authority of Brown-Séquard, that "all parts of the brain may, under irritation, act on any of its other parts, modifying their activity so as to destroy or diminish, or to increase and to morbidly alter it!"

The experimental method proceeds by irritating or destroying certain cerebral regions in living animals. This method satisfactorily demonstrates the existence in the brain of centres of action for different sets of muscles. But, then, it necessarily produces abnormal action, and fails to show the relation between brain and mind. Dr. Wilder then describes his own method, which is, in theory, that of the phrenologists, but differing therefrom in two important respects: 1. In employing the brain itself for comparison, in using large numbers, and in comparing the two sides. 2. In employing canine instead of human brains, on the ground of their simple fissural pattern, and the possibility of an accurate knowledge of the mental characteristics of the dogs. Of course, better results might be expected from the study of the brains of persons with whom we were acquainted in life, but that is impracticable. From the study of a brain, if a criminal or pauper whom the investigator has never known, nothing can be learned. It is otherwise with dogs, where the brain and the mind of the same individual are at our disposal. It is worthy of remark that Dr. Wilder is no believer in the localization of faculties in different portions of the brain, and is inclined rather to think that a cerebral hemisphere acts as a unit either singly or with its fellow.

 

Relics of Man in the Miocene.—In our June number appeared a note by Sir John Lubbock about the discovery, near the Dardanelles, of an engraved fossil bone, dating from Miocene times, and supposed to furnish evidence of man's existence at a very early geological period. A paper was presented to the American Association, at its late meeting, by Mr. George Washburn, of Constantinople, wherein reasons were given for questioning the value of these remains as evidence of the high antiquity of man. The fragment of mastodon-bone, so called, is described by Mr. Washburn as having 50 marks, more than half of which are grouped in the centre. Taken individually, they are peculiar and puzzling; but, taken together, they can hardly represent the figure of an animal, or show any evidence of design. They may have been produced by worms when the bone was soft. The smooth upper surface of the stratum of limestone on which the bone was found is covered with exactly similar marks, many groups of which make more striking pictures than those found on the bone. One specimen in particular is so marked that a vivid imagination might distinguish the picture of a wildboar with a spear in his side, with the Greek letter n most clearly cut by the side of it. As for the split bones found in the same stratum, and the flint fragments, the author satisfactorily accounts for the shapes assumed by these, without supposing the intervention of man.

 

The Octopus and its Prey.—Mr. Henry Lee, of the Brighton (England) Zoological Gardens, wishing to view the seizure of a crab by an octopus, recently fastened one to a string and had it lowered into the aquarium close to the glass, while he watched the operation in front. The crab had hardly descended to the depth of two feet when an octopus shot out like a rocket from one side of the tank, opened its membranous umbrella, shut up the crab in it, and darted back to its hiding-place. As the animal could not be well observed in this situation, the attempt was made to pull the bait away from him, so as to draw him out of his retreat. But, as soon as the octopus felt the pull, he took a firm grasp of the rock with all the suckers of seven of his arms, and, stretching the eighth aloft, coiled it round the tautened line. Noticing several jerks on the string, Mr. Lee told his assistant not to use too much force. But the man assured him that the jerking was done by the octopus, and that the creature would soon break the line if he did not let it go. "Hold on, then, and let him break it," said Mr. Lee. In three tugs more the line broke, though it was pretty strong twine.

But Mr. Lee's object was to study particularly the animal's mode of seizing and disposing of its prey. Accordingly, a second crab was so fastened that the string could be withdrawn if desired, and was lowered near to the great male octopus. The crab was seized precisely as the observer desired, viz., caught between the octopus and the glass plate. In an instant the prey was completely pinioned. Not a movement, not a struggle was visible or possible—each leg, each claw, was grasped all over by suckers, enfolded in them, stretched out to its full extent by them. The back of the carapace was covered all over with the tenacious vacuum-disks, brought together by the adaptable contraction of the limb, and ranged in close order, shoulder to shoulder, touching each other; while, between others which dragged the abdominal plates toward the mouth, the black tip of the hard, horny beak was seen for a single instant protruding from the circular orifice of the radiation of the arms, and the next had crunched through the shell, and was buried deep in the flesh of the victim. The action of an octopus when seizing its prey for its necessary food is very like that of a cat pouncing on a mouse, and holding it down beneath its paws. The movement is as sudden, the scuffle as brief, and the escape of the victim even less probable. "The fate of the crab," adds Mr. Lee, "is not really more terrible than that of the mouse or of a minnow swallowed by a perch, but there is a repulsiveness about the form, color, and attitudes of the octopus which invests it with a kind of tragic horror."

 

Cooling and Contraction of the Earth's Crust.—Prof. Dana concludes, in the September number of the American Journal of Science, a series of able papers on Dynamical Geology. He states that about 8 per cent, is the average change of density for the earth's crust between the stony and liquid states, which is equivalent to a change of volume from 100 to 92 per cent. This, therefore, expresses the contraction or shrinkage which the crust of the earth undergoes in its transition from a liquid condition to that of stone.

This contraction, as Prof. Dana long since stated, is the source of those inequalities of the surface which have resulted from a bending of the earth's solid exterior. From this cause have arisen the elevation of continents and the basin-like depressions now occupied by the waters of the oceans, and from the same cause mountain-chains have been uplifted.

The origin of the continental elevations and oceanic depressions was when the earth's crust began to form on the fiery liquid mass. Then, from change of density, already noticed, the cooled areas would sink and be overflowed by liquid matter, which, in its turn, would cool. Thus at length a solid and comparatively stable area would result—not elevated as yet, but at the general level of the liquid areas. These would, in their turn, undergo like change of conditions, and a crust, more or less stable, would envelop the globe. This would thicken, by solidifying, underneath the outer shell, as cooling proceeded.

But in thus solidifying it would undergo a change, both of density and volume, and this change would stand for a certain amount of contraction and subsidence. This amount, by the ratio given, would be in depression to an extent of 5,000 feet, if the crust or rocky layers be 12 miles thick. But the ocean-beds will average in depth, below the mean level of the continents, 16,000 feet. In order to effect so great a subsidence, the stony layers must be 3814 miles in thickness. In the subsidence several subordinate dynamical results must occur. One of these is powerful lateral pressure or thrust of the subsiding mass against the more stable areas, and this thrust might be horizontal, or obliquely upward. A consequence of this pressure would be an elevation or yielding, in some form, of the areas against which the pressure was directed. Possibly both have occurred; certainly the solid crust has bent, until vast mountain uplifts have occurred, and it became fractured to its profound depths.

From this and other considerations it would appear that continental elevations and oceanic depressions were outlined when the crust began to form, and that they have not since entirely changed places.

It further appears that the continents are a growth, in which additions to their margins have occurred. Such is evidently the case with the continent of North America, as shown in its rocks, in its outlines, and the character and results of its oscillations.

 

Improved Deep-Sea Sounding Apparatus.—In the July number of the Monthly may be found a description of Brooke's self-detaching shot-apparatus for bringing up specimens of the sea-bottom. This instrument has been considerably improved by Commander Belknap, of the U. S. steamer Tuscarora, now engaged in exploring the bed of the Pacific, with a view to find a suitable berth for a submarine cable from San Francisco to Japan, via the Aleutian Island chain. Commander Belknap's improvement consists, according to the Engineering and Mining Journal, of two cylinders, fixed one above the other when the instrument is set and descending through the water, and closing telescopically when the shot is detached on reaching the bottom. The lower cylinder is fitted with a conical cup at the lower extremity for the reception of parts of the bottom through an aperture, which, while descending, admits a flow of water upward through the cylinders by means of valves which close hermetically by the pressure of the water when the apparatus is being hauled up. The upper cylinder covers the aperture in the lower one on detaching the shot, so that the water cannot wash out the bottom contained in the conical cup. Thus Commander Belknap has discovered a practical and unfailing method of not only bringing up safely a larger amount of bottom from the ocean-bed than has hitherto been brought up, but also as much water as is caught between the two valves in the lower cylinder at the moment of striking the bottom.