Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Aleutian Islands

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ALEUTIAN ISLANDS, so called from the Russian word aleut, signifying a bold rock, is the name given by the Russian discoverers to a chain of small islands situated in the Northern Pacific Ocean, and extending in an easterly direction from the peninsula of Kamtchatka, in Asiatic Russia, to the promontory of Alaska, in North America. This archipelago has been sometimes divided into three groups; the islands nearest Kamtchatka being properly called Aleutia, the central group the Andreanov or Andrenovian, and those nearest to the promontory the Fox Islands. They are all included between 52° and 55° N. lat., and 172° E. and 163° W. long. The Aleutian Islands were discovered by the Russian navigator Behring in 1728, and were carefully explored in 1760 by Captain Krenitzin, under a commission from the Empress Catherine. During his third and last voyage, in the year 1778, Captain Cook surveyed the eastern portion of the archipolago, accurately determined the positions of some of the most remarkable islands, and corrected many errors of former navigators. Subsequent expeditions of the Russians, aided by the settlement of fur traders on the islands, as well as on the neighbouring coasts of the American continent, have afforded further information as to this remarkable chain. The whole of the islands are bare and mountainous; and their coasts are rocky and surrounded by breakers, by which the approach is rendered exceedingly dangerous. The land rises immediately from the coasts to steep bald mountains, gradually ascending into lofty ranges running from east to west. Springs take their rise at the bottom of the mountains, and either flow in broad and rapid streams into the neighbouring sea, or, collecting in the rocky vales and glens, form ample lakes, which send off their superfluous waters by natural canals into the adjacent bays. These islands bear evident marks of volcanic formation, and several of them have still active volcanoes, which continually emit smoke and sometimes flames. The most important group of the chain is that called the Fox Islands, of which the largest are Unimak and Ounalaska, both near the western extremity of Alaska. The thin argillaceous soil of the Aleutian Islands produces little vegetation, and agriculture is almost unknown. The climate is subject to sudden changes, and is very unfavourable to any attempts at cultivation. Few trees grow on the islands, but there are some stunted shrubs of birch, willow, and alder. The timber required for building purposes is obtained from the driftwood thrown on the coasts. The principal occupations of the Aleutians are fishing and hunting, and the preparation of the implements necessary for both. Since the end of last century the fur traders have had settlements here for the capture of the seal and the sea-otter, which are found in great numbers on the shores; and of the Arctic fox, which roams over the islands. Fish are abundant; and dogs and reindeer are common. The population of the whole group is about 8000, the natives being a kindred race to the inhabitants of Kamtchatka. They are described as rather low in stature, but plump and well-shaped, with short necks, swarthy faces, black eyes, and long straight black hair. They have nominally been converted to Christianity by the missionaries of the Greek Church, but are said to be unchaste in their habits, and addicted to intemperance whenever they have the opportunity. Until 1867 these islands belonged to Russia, but they were included in the transfer to the United States of the whole Russian possessions in America made in that year. They now form part of the United States territory of Alaska. (See Alaska.) From the position of the Aleutian Islands, stretching like a broken bridge from Asia to America, some ethnologists have supposed that by means of them America was first peopled.


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