Popular Science Monthly/Volume 19/September 1881/Unexplored Parts of the Old World

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627449Popular Science Monthly Volume 19 September 1881 — Unexplored Parts of the Old World1881Mikhail Ivanovitch Veneioukov



I PROPOSE to point out very briefly certain regions of Europe and Asia which have not yet been explored. Some persons may be surprised to hear Europe spoken of in this sense, but there are considerable parts of that continent of which much of interest is yet to be learned, and concerning which our maps are inexact and our geography is still defective. Extensive geodetic and topographical surveys were made in the principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Roumelia during the war of 1877—'78, but that the geography of Macedonia, Epirus, and Thessaly is far from being exact is proved by the difficulties which were experienced at the Conference of Berlin in defining the boundary between Turkey and Greece. In Russia all the northern provinces, from the frontier of Norway to the Ural Mountains, have been explored only superficially, and the only well-traced lines are those of the coasts and of the beds of the great rivers. The map of Lapland is equally imperfect, the great tundra of the Samoieds is wholly unexplored, and but little is known of the northern part of the Ural Mountains, which is probably equally rich in minerals with the middle division of the chain. From the Ural we pass to Nova Zembla, of which the littoral only has so far been examined, but which is destined to afford geologists an interesting study concerning its probable connection with that chain and with the archipelago of Franz-Joseph Land.

The parts of Asia bordering on the Kara Sea and the Arctic Ocean offer many points worthy of the attention of explorers. Among them is the enormous tract belonging to the basins of the Khatanga and Anabara, a country twice as large as France, concerning the geography of which the voyages of Tchékanovsky and Nordenskjöld have upset our old ideas, and which are still only hypothetically represented on our maps. The countries east of the Lena are wholly unknown, and embrace very extensive regions that have never been visited by Europeans. Wrangell has made a sketch of them from information supplied by Siberian natives, but it can not be depended upon. The country of the Tchouktchis is superficially well known, thanks to the labors of Nordenskjöld and previous explorers, but has never been scientifically examined. The extreme northeast peninsula north of the Gulf of Anadir needs a thorough exploration of its interior, for it may become important as a station for whalers, particularly if it should be found to contain coal. The country of the Koriaks, a vast desert region of hardly accessible mountains, traversed by no important river, offers few attractions, but might be made to yield a rich harvest of new discoveries to the naturalist. Kamchatka is better known, but it needs an accurate survey. The geologist would find objects of interest in its central chain of mountains and its active volcanoes; the botanist and zoölogist, in its rich flora and fauna; the landscape-painter, in its majestic peaks with their summits vomiting fire and their slopes covered with magnificent forests; the ethnologist, in tracing the connection between the native population and the people of the Kurile Islands on the one side and of Northwestern America on the other, and in watching the development of a new mixed race, which has originated since the Russians have settled in the country. On the other side of the Sea of Okhotsk we find awaiting a competent explorer the northern part of Saghalien, an island as large as Ireland; the mountain-chain which rises between the Strait of Tartary and the valleys of the Amoor and Ousouri; the vast spaces of Manchooria; the mountains dividing Corea from China, covered with great forests, and containing so considerable mineral wealth as to afford a profit to the Chinese vagabonds who work for it with the most primitive processes; and the forbidden land of Corea. On the classic ground of the Celestial Empire are spaces larger than Great Britain that may be ranked among unknown lands. Eastern and northern Thibet, the least accessible part of all the empire, presents in particular many interesting problems, the most important of which is that of the river systems. What is the true relation between the rivers which we see hypothetically represented on the map of Thibet and those of Indo-China and India? Is the chain of the Kuen-Lung, which appears on the maps as one of the principal ranges of the continent, really worthy to be ranked with the Himalaya and the Thian-Shan systems? The latter question is now complicated with some apparently contradictory circumstances. The southern part of eastern Turkistan deserves the attention of explorers equally with Thibet. It is the most inaccessible desert of the continent, a land of jade-stone and gold, of camels and the wild horses that are not known anywhere else in the world.

Prejévalsky, during his last expedition, touched a country of quite exceptional geographical interest, the sources of the Hoang-Ho. He was not able to penetrate to the "Sea of Stars" itself, but he saw a considerable part of the narrow valley by which the upper Yellow River flows toward the east. Access to the sources themselves of this great stream has thus become one of the geographical desiderata; but no doubt exists concerning the absence of the subterranean connection between the Hoang-Ho and the Tarim, of which the Chinese geographers have often spoken.

The great desert of Gobi has lately been tolerably well explored, but the question is still to be answered whether it is crossed by a chain of mountains connecting the eastern end of the Thian-Shan with the In-shan. The mountains, if they exist, can not be very high, for no large rivers flow from the region, and some streams flow toward it; but they are marked on several maps of China, including that of the Russian staff; and the existence of a direct route between Koukou-Khota and Barkoul indicates that there are springs along the line, and they must have hills to maintain them.

Northern and northeastern Mongolia have been topographically delineated with some exactness, but no naturalist has visited them; and only three or four European travelers have crossed the Kingan range between Mongolia and Manchooria, whose geological structure and mineral, zoölogical, and botanical riches have still to be found out.

Returning along this range into China proper, we enter a country the superficial character of which has been often described, but concerning which the determinations are still very inexact. Consequently, our maps of China are filled with chains of hypothetical mountains, which certain famous savants would like to impose upon us as the last word of modern science. Unfortunately for them, Nature has the bad habit of not agreeing with systems that are too learned, even when they are framed by disciples of the most eminent geographers. Anthropological interest is attached to the heterogeneous populations of the western provinces of this vast country, and we may possibly find among them the missing links of the chain that may connect the yellow race with the white race. To make such researches successful, one must of course be an accomplished scholar in Oriental linguistics and philosophy, but the possible results of such investigations are so attractive that I am disposed to believe in their near realization. Similar anthropological and linguistic researches may be undertaken in the southwestern provinces of China, which are filled with aborigines not of Chinese origin; and hence we may go to Indo-China, the richest part of Asia, of which only the French and the English colonies, the coast regions, and the largest valleys are known, and where the origin of immense rivers is still to be traced.

Japan and the archipelagoes of the Pacific are others among the richest countries, and have attracted much attention from travelers; but what has been learned about them should only sharpen the desire to learn the more which is still unknown; and these islands, with their varied populations, afford most profitable studies in language and anthropology.

British India is the best explored part of Asia, and is even better known than some parts of Europe. It does not come within our category; but the adjoining countries of Afghanistan and Beloochistan still await a scientific exploration of their most important parts. Our geographical knowledge of the Southern parts of Turkistan is also wanting in many points concerning which it would be desirable to know more. The Oasis of Merv, which is so often mentioned in the journals, has never been visited by a scientific traveler. The fundamental question of Turkoman geography is identified with the discovery of the ancient beds of the Oxus and its affluents. Many important advances have been already made in this direction, but much of the desert stretching between the present Amoo-Darya and the mountains of Khorassan still remains to be explored; and on its competent exploration depends much that is important to the improvement of the country.

Great progress has been made in the last twenty-five years in the exploration of Khorassan, and Stebnitzky's late map of Persia is quite full in relation to that province. Western Persia has been nearly as well mapped, but much is yet to be done concerning the southern part and the interior of the country. The greater part of the interior, however, has been known, from the most remote antiquity, to be a desert, and is not likely to afford any features of important interest. The same is the case, in a higher degree, with the most of Arabia, which the inhabitants themselves say God created in anger, and which the travels of Palgrave and Blunt show is not likely to afford enough scientific results to pay for the toil and dangers of a thorough examination. Our knowledge of Mesopotamia and Syria is being rapidly increased by the zeal of antiquarian explorers, whose investigations, although they are rather historical than geographical, and concern the past rather than the present, are not without results of contemporary interest. In Asia Minor and Armenia, researches already carried on need to be completed and systematized and made generally applicable to the whole country; and there are spots within three or four days' journey from Constantinople that still need to be thoroughly worked out.

We are back in Turkey, whence we started, but on the southern instead of the northern side of the Hellespont and Bosporus. We might complete our tour by examining these straits, and finding whether they are traversed by a single current, carrying the waters of the Black Sea into the Mediterranean, or by two currents, one superficial and running to the west, the other submarine and directed toward the east—a question that may have a bearing on the future of the countries east of the Black Sea.—Revue Scientifique.