Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/436

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422
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

but this arrangement was at some distance in the longitudinal direction of the tablet from the groups first mentioned, which were in both cases written in couples. Major Beebe claimed that these groups of six letters each, when separated into alternate threes and read right and left respectively, are the names of eight of the zodiacal signs on the Davenport slate—the other four signs, Capricorn, Aries, Cancer, and Libra, being represented by four initial letters on the back of one of the Piqua tablets. These letters represent the North, South, East, and West, respectively, and correspond to the "world-holders," as they were called, to which a particular importance was attached. The most significant detail of this identification is that the forms of the letters are almost precisely those that occur about the Mediterranean, whose phonetic values have been determined by Alois Hess in his work on the classification of old Spanish coins. Should this identification be correct, the point arises whether this alphabet originated in this country or in the old. Major Beebe claims to have traced each form of letter to aboriginal American picture-symbols, in which the same significance obtains in both European and American forms. Having fixed the significance of the letters, he has, he says, deciphered the inscription on the stone from Grave Creek, West Virginia, and that on the axe found at Pemberton, New Jersey.

 

Cremation in Italy.—As an evidence of the progress which cremation is making in Italy, the Journal of the Italian Hygienic Society states that one hundred and thirty-nine cremations have taken place in the crematories at Milan and Lodi, and that the number increases every month. Nine societies and nine committees for cremation exist in the kingdom, and new crematories are to be built at Rome, Varese, Leghorn, Pavia, Cremona, and Udine. Signor Loria, of Milan, has recently offered the municipality of the city twenty thousand francs for the establishment and maintenance of a laboratory for making autopsies of bodies destined to be incinerated when that is deemed expedient, or may be called for by the circumstances of the case. The French Government apparently does not favor the movement much. To a petition from the municipality of Paris, asking permission to incinerate bodies in certain cases, the Minister of the Interior replied that the law of the year XII, prescribing burial, would have first to be repealed, and the Government did not consider that the question had yet been enough studied by science or advanced in public opinion to justify the assumption of the responsibility of presenting it to the legislative bodies.

 

Sanitation of Cemeteries.—The Municipal Council of Paris in 1879 appointed a commission on the sanitation of cemeteries, with instructions to inquire especially whether that object could not be fully accomplished by the employment of chemical or physical agents combined with drainage; whether it could be assured for the future by the same means; and whether the disappearance of the organic parts of bodies could not be expedited by the addition, in the coffins or the soil, of chemical agents and other substances; and whether such additions were likely to do any harm. This committee, after a careful examination of the soil and air within the cemeteries and around them, has reported that, though accidents may have occurred from the escape of gases in close tombs and churches where bodies have been buried, they are not to be feared in the open air; that deleterious gases produced by the decomposition of corpses buried at the depth of a metre and a half (five feet) do not reach the surface; that nearly the entire organic constituents of dead bodies are consumed in the course of five years, and that consequently a tolerably permeable soil is not likely to be saturated; that this consumption may be accelerated by drainage; and that there is no danger to wells if they are at a reasonable distance away. These conclusions agree fully with those expressed by M Robinet in his article "Are Cemeteries Unhealthy? "[1] They may possibly be modified in consequence of the researches that have brought the cadaveric alkaloids, the ptomaines, to light, and of M. Pasteur's discoveries concerning the preservation of carbuncular germs in the soil.

 
  1. Published in the "Popular Science Monthly" for September, 1881.