Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/877

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listhenes found at Babylon and sent to Aristotle a series of observations going back to the earlier date of 1903 b. c. As yet, however, the Chaldean observations with which we are acquainted are reduced to the account of three eclipses of the moon that took place about 719 b. c. Hopes were entertained, when the discoveries of cuneiform tablets were made in the ruins of Babylonia and Nineveh, that trustworthy information of the real condition of astronomical science among the Chaldeans might be gathered from them; but it was some time before anything of this kind was realized. Messrs. Oppert and Sayce, it is true, found a few astronomical documents in the library of a king of Assyria, but they contained more astrology than astronomy, and were, moreover, too badly preserved to be of much use. Quite recently the Assyriologue, Father Strassmeyer, of the Society of Jesus, has found a few documents relative to astronomy in the Spartoli collection of the British Museum; and these have been carefully examined by Father Epping. They indicate that the Chaldeans had considerable knowledge of astronomy. Besides calculating the time of the new moon, and taking account of the thirds in their observations, they followed the courses of the planets, were acquainted with the retrograde movement of Mars, and referred the positions of the planets to those of the stars. If other results similar to these are at all extensively obtained from the immense amount of study yet to be made of the tablets, astronomers may hope to acquire materials of extreme value for the verification of their tables and the study of the system of the world.


Pedigree Selection in Food-Plants.—Major Hallett, in commending before the Brighton Health Congress his "pedigree system" for the improvement of food plants, takes notice of the immensely greater advantages in favor of systematic improvement afforded by plants over animals. A cow or ewe, he says, "produces at birth one (or two) only; a single grain of wheat has produced a plant the ears of which contained 8,000 grains, all capable of reproduction. Now, we can plant all of these, and of the resultant 8,000 plants reserve only the best one of all, to perpetuate the race, rejecting every other." The principle of Major Hallett's system consists in applying this rule, of reproducing only the best plants of each lot in successive years. "Can anything approaching such a choice as this," he says, "be afforded any breeder of cattle or sheep, no matter how extensive his herd or flock?" Cereals, improved by Hallett's system, have now been cultivated in more than forty different countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Australia, with complete success everywhere, so far as reports have been received. A parcel of pedigree wheat taken to Perth, Western Australia, in 1862, where the average crop was ten bushels to the acre, produced from twenty-nine to thirty-five bushels to the acre, with seventy-two as the largest number of heads on one stool, and one hundred and thirteen grains in the largest ear. In 1881 the same wheat, or its descendant, produced, in New Zealand, seventy-two bushels on one acre; with more than ninety ears, some of them containing as many as one hundred and thirty-two grains each, on single plants. The same return—seventy-two bushels to the acre—was reported cf three acres in Essex, England, in 1876, with one hundred and five ears, containing more than 8,000 grains, on one plant. Reports corresponding with this have been received from Brussieres, France; Linlithgow, Scotland; Russia, Hungary, Italy, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden. The Hallett wheat withstood the frosts of 1875 and 1876 in Belgium, when other varieties were killed. In India, Sir Seymour Fitzgerald, Governor of Bombay, in 1870, reported the crop from the pedigree wheat to be fifty per cent greater in quantity and fifty per cent more valuable in quality than that produced from the best other seed that could be bought in the market. The same success has been obtained with barley and oats cultivated after this system. A friend of Major Hallett's, in Italy, applied his system to the sugar-beet, with the result of obtaining, after seven years of improvement, three times as much sugar and wine from the same acreage of roots as he had been accustomed to get at first. Experimenting with the potato, Major Hallett has started each year, for fourteen years, with a single tuber, the best of the year, cultivating for freedom from dis-