Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/December 1891/Popular Miscellany

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POPULAR MISCELLANY.

Association of Official Geologists.—The preliminary steps were taken at Washington during the meetings of the International Geological Congress toward the formation of an official organization of the directors of State and national geological surveys. The more important objects of the projected society are the determination of the proper objects of public geologic work, the improvement and unification of methods, the establishment of the proper relative spheres and functions of national and State surveys, co-operation in works of common interest and the prevention of duplication of work, the elevation of the standard of public geologic work and the sustenance of an appreciation of its value, and the inauguration of surveys by States not having any now, which co-operate with the other State surveys and with the national survey.

 

Changes in Level of the Atlantic Coast.—The fluctuations in height of the Atlantic lowland coast-lands of the United States were described by Prof. W J McGee in a paper read before the American Association. In the Pleistocene period the land stood between three hundred and eight hundred feet below its present level. Immediately afterward the land rose to from three hundred to six hundred feet above its present height, and the shores of the Atlantic and the Gulf retreated to from one hundred to five hundred miles beyond their present position. Afterward the land gradually sank, and the waters readvanced until the geography was much the same as to-day. Then came another incursion of the ocean and gulf, bringing sea-waters over nearly all the area upon which Washington is built, and over considerable portions of the North and the South. During this period there was deposited a series of loams and brick-clay and bowlder-beds, upon which Washington is located, and which has been named, from the District, the Columbia formation. At the close of the Columbia period the land again rose one hundred or two hundred feet higher than at present, and river channels , were cut from fifty to seventy-five miles beyond the present coast-line. It then began to sink, and this movement is yet in progress.

 

South American Railroads.—Three of the railroads that start from the Pacific coast of South America and run up the valleys of the Andes, says President Gardner G. Hubbard, in his address to the National Geographic Society, are among the most remarkable roads in the world, ascend to a greater elevation than any others, and reach a height which in Europe and the United States would be above the snow-level. They were intended to reach the gold and silver mines between the Andes and Cordilleras. The first, called the Oroya or Central Railroad, one hundred and eleven miles long, starts from Callao and crosses the Andes at an elevation of nearly fifteen thousand feet. It is intended to extend it to the navigable waters of the Amazon. Three hundred miles southward of this, the second road runs from Mollendo, Peru, by Arequipa to Puno or Lake Titicaca, and thence northward on the plateau four hundred and seven miles to San Rosas, on the route to Cuzco. For a part of the way it runs through a country so destitute of water that the only supply for the engines and stations is by an iron pipe eight inches in diameter and fifty miles long, running from an elevation of seven thousand feet to the sea-coast. Seven or eight hundred miles south of Mollendo a line runs from Valparaiso, in Chili, to Buenos Ayres, eight hundred and seventy miles. It crosses the Andes through a tunnel two miles long, at an elevation of ten thousand five hundred and sixty-eight feet above the sea; after leaving the mountains it runs over the pampas two hundred miles, without a curve or a grade more than three feet above or below the plain, and will soon be completed from ocean to ocean. From Rio Janeiro several roads have been constructed over the mountains west of that city to different parts of Brazil. There are now from six thousand to seven thousand miles of road in operation in the Argentine Republic, five thousand or six thousand in Brazil, and three thousand or four thousand miles in the other states, making a total of about fifteen thousand miles of railroad in operation. The apparently most feasible route for the proposed Pan-American Railroad to run from the Caribbean Sea to the Argentine Republic, and to connect with the others, starts from Cartagena, follows the valley of the Magdalena River eight hundred miles to Dividal, seventeen hundred feet above the sea; crosses the eastern Cordilleras at an elevation of about six thousand five hundred feet to the head-waters of the Caqueta or Yapura, a branch of the Amazon, and runs down that river three hundred and seventy-five miles to the mouth of the Engarros, five hundred and fifty feet above tide-water. From the Caqueta River the route passes through Ecuador to Iquitos, Peru, crossing fourteen tributaries of the Amazon. From Iquitos it ascends the Amazon and the Ucayle five hundred miles to Napal, thence continues across the Montana, and the numerous valleys of the Amazon about six hundred miles, to Santa Cruz in Bolivia, or twenty-four hundred miles from Cartagena; while a branch will run up the Apurimac to Cuzco. This road would run for two thousand miles along the foot-hills of the Cordilleras, in which is probably the richest mining region in the world, and would greatly facilitate the opening and working of the mines. It would cross many branches of the Amazon, and thus connect with fifty thousand miles of navigable waters, at least nine thousand of which are above Iquitos, and it is claimed that the business from twenty thousand miles of navigable waters would find by this route a nearer outlet to Europe and American markets than by Pará. There is every variety of climate on the route; and the country, under a wise government, is capable of sustaining an immense population and giving abundant support to a railroad.

 

Purification of Sewage.—The method of purifying sewage at "Worcester, Mass., by chemical precipitation was described by Prof. L. P. Kinnicutt at the meeting of the American Association. The sewage treated contains a notably large quantity of the waste products of various manufacturing establishments, and an unusually large amount of free acids and iron salts. The Carpenter process is employed for purification. By adding lime and the crude sulphate of aluminum the suspended matter is all removed and the total organic matter is reduced over two thirds. The effluent water is clear and colorless, without odor, and with only a slight alkaline taste, and can cause no nuisance when run into a stream of not more than five times its volume. The precipitate, or sludge, is free from bad odor, and when dried contains nearly sixty per cent of iron oxide, ten per cent of carbon, thirteen per cent of nitrogen, and four per cent of phosphoric acid. Its theoretical value is about forty-five dollars per ton. If no use is found for it, it can be disposed of by burning.

 

Evolution of Clocks and Watches.—The beginning of modern clock-making may be dated from 1656, when Huygens attached the pendulum to the clock. This gave horology a place in the exact sciences such as it had not before held. The next important advance was the invention of the watch balance-spring, by Dr. Robert Hooke, of the Isle of Wight. lie was the author of other valuable inventions and improvements, among them the "anchor" escapement and some ingenious tools for the making of astronomical instruments. Previous to 1691 watches had only the hour-hand. Daniel Ouare, of London, added the minute-hand. Nine years later the horizontal escapement in its perfect state was made public by George Graham, F. R. S., and the device of jeweling the parts most subject to wear was introduced into England by M. Facio, of Geneva. The English Government commission on a method of finding the longitude, of which Sir Isaac Newton was a member, appointed in 1714, published the conclusion that an accurate time-keeper would furnish the best means; and an offer was made by the Government for the discovery of a method—fixed at £10,000, if by it the longitude could be defined to one degree; £15,000, if within two thirds of a degree; and £20,000, if within half a degree. John Harrison, born at Foulby, near Pontefract, in Yorkshire, in 1693, who devised the gridiron compensation pendulum, was stimulated by the offer to efforts to find a similar regulator for a watch, and devised an automatic regulator which Halley thought might prove to be of some value. He applied it to a time-keeper, which, having stood a test in a boat on the Humber, was successfully taken to Lisbon. The Board of Longitude advanced him £500. A second instrument was not satisfactory to the board; but a third won for the inventor the gold medal of the Royal Society. This instrument was sent on a long voyage to Jamaica. After being eighteen days out, a difference of more than two degrees appeared between its indications and the shipmen's calculations. Harrison insisted that his time-piece was right, and told the shipmen that, if they turned in a certain direction, they would sight a certain island the next morning—if the maps were right. They did so, and the island was seen, according to his prediction. Like results were obtained as island after island was passed. On arriving at Port Royal, after a voyage of two months, the time-keeper was five seconds slow; and on returning to England, after five months, its error was less than a minute and a quarter. Harrison was not allowed the offered reward till more sure tests were made, but was given £5,000. The watch was tested on a second voyage, with triple precautions, and Harrison was allowed £5,000 more, and promised the rest of the £20,000 when he had taught others how to make the instruments. Having fulfilled all possible conditions, he was fully paid in 1767. His time-keepers are still preserved, in charge of the astronomers royal, in Greenwich Observatory.

 

Egyptian Identifications.—Dr. Edouard Naville, to whom the world owes the recovery of the cities of Bubastis and Pithom, in Egypt, gave a summary of the results of his work in excavating other cities of Egypt before a meeting of the Victoria Institute in June. His explanations related principally to places connected with the Exodus. He had found that Succoth, whither the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses, was not a city, as some had supposed, but a district. An inscription discovered at Pithom left it no longer doubtful that that place was the ancient Heroopolis, whence, according to Strabo, Pliny, and other authors, merchant ships sailed to the Arabian Gulf. This fact coincided with the results of modem scientific surveys, which showed that there had been a gradual rising of the land, and that the Red Sea once extended up to the walls of Pithom. The identification of Baal Zephon had been aided by some papyri, which proved that it was not a village or a city, but an ancient shrine of Baal and a noted place of pilgrimage. Other places were Migdol and Pi Hahiroth, in the identification of which the author had again been aided by a papyrus, and it seemed probable that the Serapeum was the Egyptian Maktal or Migdol. It was greatly to be regretted that a bilingual tablet discovered there a few years ago had been destroyed before being deciphered.

 

Forest Reproduction in New England.—The question whether our forests are disappearing is answered in one way by Mr. I. H. Hoskins, of Newport, Vt., who says, in Garden and Forest: "In northern New England they certainly are not. The farmer has a constant struggle against the persistent spread of seedling trees over his cleared land; and if man should abandon this region I think in a hundred years it would hardly be possible for a visitor to realize that it had ever been inhabited by civilized man. It is this constant back-pressure of the forest upon intruding settlements that prevents the average farmer from taking an interest in forestry. He has to fight for his life against the forest, and the idea that the forests are likely to be extirpated seems to him quite absurd. One of the largest and finest sugar orchards in this town was seventy years ago a wheat-field." While this is true of some regions. Garden and Forest remarks, there are other vast areas that will never reforest themselves; and the new forests are of inferior quality to the old ones which they succeed.

 

Astronomy and Numismatics.—A curious suggestion is made by Dr. A. Vercoutre, of a way in which astronomical knowledge may be made of service to numismatical science. Stars and members of the solar system often figure on antique medals, notably on coins of the Roman republic, and they sometimes appear as heraldic allusions to the magistrate by whom the coin was struck. Thus, on a coin of L. Lucretius Trio, 74 B. c, the seven stars in Ursa Major—called by the Romans Septem Triones—appear in evident phonetic allusion to the name, Trio, of the magistrate. On a coin struck in b. c. 43, Dr. Vercoutre noticed five stars, one of which was much larger and more brilliant than the others. As the constellation Taurus contains the only group of five stars, with one much the brightest recognized by the ancients, the author attributed the coin to P. Clodius Turrinus, who used the name Taurus or Taurianus as a phonetic equivalent of his own. A coin struck by Marius Aquillus, b. c. 94, has figured on it the first four stars of the constellation Aquila. They are shown in nearly the same relative positions they now occupy, and therefore contain the earliest known representation of a pan of the celestial vault.

 

Native Jade in Europe.—From the occurrence of articles of jade in ancient graves in Europe and America, while the only known quarries of that mineral were in Asia, archæologists have concluded that all the materials used by the prehistoric artisans must have had an Oriental origin. Prof. F. W. Rudler has shown that this conclusion is no longer necessary. Within the last few years Herr Traube, of Breslau, has discovered nephrite, or true jade, in places near Jordansmühl and near Reichenstein, in Silesia. Pebbles of nephrite have also been recently recorded by Dr. Berwerth from the valleys of two rivers in Styria. A pebble believed to be of jadeite has been found by if. Damour at Ouchy, on the Lake of Geneva, and the same mineral has been recorded from Monte Tiso, in Piedmont. Pr. G. M. Dawson has recorded the discovery of small bowlders of jade, partially worked, in the lower part of the Frazer River Valley; and Lieutenant Stoney has obtained the mineral in place at the Jade Mountains, in Alaska, 150 miles above the mouth of the river Kowak. The present aspect of the jade question is, therefore, different from that which it presented when the la:e Prof. Fischer and others favored the view that the jade implements of America and Europe were of exotic origin. It seems now probable that in both continents the material of the implements is indigenous,

 

Causes of Baldness.—The probable causes of baldness are summed up by Dr. Joseph Tyson as, in their order, insufficient exposure of the hair; influence of heredity; excessive mental work and great anxiety; venereal and alcoholic excesses; and constant washing and want of pomade. Preventive treatment is advised. Children should, as much as possible, do without caps, and their hats, when worn, should be of the lightest description. A stouter hat may be necessary during the hot season, for the prevention of sunstroke. Head-coverings should not be warn indoors, in trains, or in closed carriages. Straw hats are preferable in summer and in still weather; in winter, hats made of light felt, well ventilated and unlined. The ordinary tall hat, or stove-pipe, and the thick, heavy, unventilated top hat, can not be too strongly condemned. The second cause does not admit of practical treatment, while the course to be pursued with the third and fourth causes is obviously one of avoidance. Too constant washing of the hair is unnecessary as well as harmful. Once a week is enough for cleanliness and for maintaining the strength of the hair. Excessive brushing, especially with hard brushes, should be avoided. The author advises the application of some form of simple grease or oil, after the hair has been washed; and, when the head hair is becoming rapidly thinned, some stimulating material, such as ammonia and cantharides. applied to the oil, will increase its good effects.

 

The Mesopotamian Desert.—The Mesopotamian Desert, according to Dr. D. Moritz, comprises two thirds of the southern part of the country, forming an unbroken plain with little or no vegetation, except in the depressions where rain-water collects or the inundations penetrate. Piles of ruins, or débris—which the inhabitants designate by a name signifying "signs"—rise from these perfectly level plains from the height of a few yards to a hundred feet, and are sometimes several miles in diameter. Some of the walls and buildings still tower aloft, and, in more recent ruins, lines of streets can yet be traced; the dams of ancient canals are still visible, and are sometimes fifty feet high. The atmosphere is murky, so that the highest hills are obscured at a distance of a few miles. Dust-storms, for which abundant material is furnished by the old crumbled walls of brick, fill the air at times so that the sun is obscured; and in time they have changed the appearance of the country by blocking up the ancient canals and forming long, parallel lines. They now threaten to cover up the few existing fields on the Tigris. While extensive tracts in these regions have been lost to cultivation from the lack of water, another part is suffering from its superabundance, and the land is swamp at the normal level of the streams. Such is now what was once the most populous region of the earth.

 

Tests of Woods.—A system of tests of woods was described by Prof. Fernow at the meeting of the American Association, which have been undertaken at the Department of Agriculture for the determination of the relation of technical and physical qualities to each other and to conditions of growth. The method includes the selection of testmaterial from as many essentially different soil and climatic conditions as the species may occupy; the examination of the structure and physical condition of the material down to the minutest detail; the usual testing with special care; and the compilation and comparative discussion of the results of the tests in connection with the physical examination and the known conditions of growth. Besides more reliable data than have been hitherto obtained of the qualities of our principal timbers, the investigation promises to furnish us with a knowledge of the conditions under which desirable qualities can be produced by the forest-grower.

 

Phosphorus in Plants and Animals.—In a paper presented to the American Association meeting in 1890, Mr. Walter Maxwell showed that a vegetable organism, during the initial stages of growth and under the action of the ferments operating in germination, possesses the power of taking the phosphorus present in seeds or in soils as mineral phosphates, separating the phosphorus from the inorganic combination, and causing it to appear in the young plantlet in an organic form as a lecithine. In a second part of his paper, which was read at the association meeting of 1891, the author showed that the lecithine bodies present in the animal kingdom revert to the mineral form under the action of the ferments present in the animal organism. The phosphorus contained in a hen's egg, with which the investigations were conducted—both in the forms of mineral phosphates and of organic phosphorus compounds as lecithines—was first determined. Next, eggs were incubated, and the products of incubation were studied. It was found that the phosphorus contained in the natural egg as a lecithine reappeared in the incubation product as calcium phosphate, forming the bone of the chicken. It thus appears from the investigations that the lecithine bodies are a medium through which phosphorus conducts its circulation between the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms—passing from the mineral, through the vegetable, into the animal kingdom, where it reappears as a mineral compound.

 

Carpet-weaving in Persia.—Few ancient carpets are to be found in Persia now, the stock having been gathered up by European travelers, merchants, and curio hunters. It may seem almost incredible to many people that among the ancient carpets so many are still in good condition and comparatively little worn. The secret of this is, according to M. G. de Vries, that not only has great care been bestowed on the weaving of the carpets and on the quality of wool used, but because of the custom prevailing in the houses of Eastern people. While we enter our own and other people's rooms with the same boots with which we walk through the muddy streets, a Persian never enters any room without leaving his boots or shoes at the door. The most important present manufacture of carpets is carried on at Sultanabad. The weaving is done exclusively by women. The only share the men take in the work is, that to them the merchants give out the designs, the colors, and the money required for the weaving. The loom is an inexpensive and simple structure, consisting of four wooden poles, which generally occupy the whole length of the weaving-room. When weaving is going on regularly, three or four women work at a carpet of fairly large size, the weaver's wife being, as a rule, the principal weaver, and at the same time superintending the work of her daughters or hired women. The rule is, that, at each end of the board on which the women arc seated, there shall be one female overseer. For carpets of very large size, in the weaving of which seven or eight women are employed, there is also an overseer in the middle. At the age of seven years girls begin to assist in the weaving; previous to that age they spend a year or so on the board watching the other women so that they may get accustomed to the work. If a young woman who has been brought up to the loom gets married, the first thing she does is to try and obtain an order for a carpet, so that the weaving of carpets passes from one generation to another. Every stitch in the carpet is made separately, and it is afterward clipped with the scissors and beaten down. In a good carpet there are about ten thousand stitches to every square foot. The clipping must be done every time with equal care, otherwise when the carpet is finished the pile will be short in some places and longer in others. Upon the beating down depends the closeness of the texture; the more a weaver beats her stitches down, the finer, of course, the carpet is. She knows how many stitches she has to weave to every quarter of a Persian yard; but she generally makes less, in order to save wool, time, and trouble. The designs are the individual property of the weavers, and are protected by law. The shades of color are a matter of importance, and attention is paid to having them in harmony with the varying tastes of the European markets. Besides woolen carpets, rugs are exported, woven entirely of silk. The weaving of such rugs is done in the same way as the weaving of carpets, but the labor is far greater in proportion, as they are always of a very fine make. Such rugs can be used as table or sofa covers, portieres, etc., but, as they are made of pure silk, they are very costly.

 

Holy Stones of the East and the West.—A curious paper was read by Mr. Charles G. Leland at the International Congress of Orientalists concerning the salagrama stone of India and the salagrana of the Toscana Romana, as a curious link connecting the East and West. The Indian salagrama is a kind of ammonite, the size of an orange, and having a hole in it. According to the legend, Vishnu the Preserver, when pursued by the Destroyer, was changed by Maya into the stone, through the hole of which the Destroyer as a worm wound his way. The Italian salagrana is a stalagmite, which is believed by the people, on account of its resemblance to the little mounds thrown up by earthworms, to be such a mound petrified. They carry it in a red bag, along with certain magical herbs, and pronounce over it an incantation to the effect that the irregularities and cavities in it have the property of bewildering the evil eye and depriving it of its power. The author was informed by believers in such things that anything like grains, irregular and confused surfaces, interlaced serpents, or intricate works, blunted the evil eye. Interlaced cords are sold in Florence as charms. Even the convolvulus is grown in gardens against the evil eye. In the Norse mythology, Odin as a worm bored his head through a stone in order to get at "the mead of poetry." Hence all stones with holes in them are known as Odin stones, also as "holy stones," and are much used at the North as amulets. Hung at the head of the bed, they are supposed to drive away nightmare. Possibly there is a connection with the salagrana here. So interlacings in decoration may be originally designed to avert the evil eye and bad luck. A recent traveler in Persia was told that the patterns on carpets in that country were made intricate so that the evil eye might be bewildered. In the salagrana of Italy the number of grains or protuberances must be counted one by one before the witch can do evil. In the Arabian Nights the ghoul Amina must eat her rice grain by grain; and in South Carolina the negroes protect a person who is bedridden or nightmared by strewing rice round his bed, which the witch, when she comes, must count grain by grain before she can touch her victim.

 

Two Ancient Races.—Describing, in the International Oriental Congress, his excavation of the pyramid of Medum—the tomb of King Senefru, of the third Egyptian dynasty, and the oldest known building in the world—Mr. H. Flinders Petrie spoke of the entire skeletons which had been obtained of men of that remote period (some 4000 years b. c.) as providing an anatomical study of importance for ethnology. The peculiar mode of interment of most of these persons shows that a religious difference then existed. The bodies of the highest class or race were interred, extended at full length, with vases of pottery or stone, and head-rests; while the greater number of the bodies were interred contracted, with the knees drawn up to the breast, even when the chamber was long enough to hold them extended; and they were not mummified No pottery was interred with them, except one or two rough vases in one tomb. This treatment was not due to neglect, for the deceased were always placed with great care and regularity, with the head to the north, the face to the east, and the body lying on the left side. Such essential differences in the mode of interment, and the provision for the deceased, point to a difference of race. The contracted interment may have pertained to one of the prehistoric races, and the extended interment with provision of vases, etc., to the dynastic race. The skeletons were well preserved, but tender and friable; the bones lay in their places, and the linen cloth wrapped around the body was intact. Rheumatic disease and other maladies of the bones were already well known at that period.

 

Non-drinking Sheep and Cows.—The facility with which animals can adapt themselves to altered conditions of existence is illustrated by Dr. A. J. Crespi in an article in the Gentleman's Magazine on Curiosities of Eating and Drinking. He quotes from Miss Betham Edwards's account of her excursions in the barren, stony, wilderness-like region of the Gausses of France the description of some of the interesting facts which it affords to evolutionists. "The aridity, the absolutely waterless condition of the Larzac has evolved a race of non-drinking animals. The sheep, browzing the fragrant herbs of these plateaus, have altogether unlearned the habit of drinking, whilst the cows drink very little. The much-esteemed Roquefort cheese is made from ewe's milk—that of the non-drinking ewes of the Larzac. Is the peculiar flavor of the cheese due to this non-drinking habit?"