Popular Science Monthly/Volume 54/March 1899/Fragments of Science

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Fragments of Science.

Pre-Columbian Musical Instruments in America.—In a recent article in the Popular Science Monthly u(November, 1898), entitled Was Middle America Peopled from Asia? I insisted that if there had been any invasion, peaceful or otherwise, sufficient to have affected even in the slightest degree the arts, customs, and religious beliefs of middle America, then, associated with these influences, we should find traces of Asiatic utensils, implements, structures, such as sandals, weapons, pottery, wheels, plows, roofing tiles, etc.; in other words, just those objects most intimately associated with man. I especially considered the absence of stringed musical instruments and coincided with Dr. Otis T. Mason in the belief that there was no evidence of a pre-Columbian stringed musical device. This question has been variously discusssd and the following references bear on the subject: A short note in the American Antiquarian for January, 1897, by Dr. D. G. Brinton, entitled Native American Stringed Musical Instruments. The author frankly admits, however, that the cases cited may all have been borrowed from the whites or negroes. Mr. M. H. Saville in the American Anthropologist for August, 1897, described A Primitive Maya Musical Instrument, though he makes no pronounced statement of its pre-Columbian origin. Dr. Mason, in the American Anthropologist for November, 1897, discusses the question under the title Geographical Distribution of the Musical Bow, and in this paper says, "I have come to the conclusion that stringed musical instruments were not known to any of the aborigines of the western hemisphere before Columbus." In my paper I insisted that "had this simple musical device been known anciently in this country, it would have spread so widely that its pre-Columbian use would have been beyond any contention." Mr. Saville finally, in the American Anthropologist for September, 1898, shows apparently the existence of a pre-Columbian stringed musical device in a paper entitled The Musical Bow in Ancient Mexico, and presents his proof in the form of a reproduction from an ancient Mexican codex of an orchestra of six performers.

PSM V54 D735 Musical bow of ancient mexico.png
Fig. 1.

One of the figures, according to Mr. Saville's interpretation, is holding a musical bow in his left hand while with his right hand he is striking the cord with a forked stick. Claiming no skill in the interpretation of these quaint and concentrated Jack-of-heart figures, I readily yielded to the authority of Saville in this matter, and so acknowledged in a footnote in my paper which I was enabled to insert after the pages were made up. Within a few days I have received a letter from Mrs. Zelia Nuttall, the eminent American paleographist, to whom we are indebted for the most profound researches in connection with these ancient codices. In this letter Mrs. Nuttall refers to Sahagun's great manuscript, wherein she says: "The native musical instruments are repeatedly enumerated. The turtle's shell figures among them, but there is no trace of a stringed musical instrument ever having been known or employed in ancient Mexico. (The Italics are hers.) Mrs. Nuttall then says that the object held under the arm of the musician which has been recognized as a musical bow is undoubtedly a turtle's shell.

PSM V54 D735 Turtle shell musical bow.png
Fig. 2.
In support of this view she sends me a tracing of the figure from the original manuscript which is now in Vienna, in which the entire object under the arm of the player as well as the forked stick is colored blue (Fig. 1). A photograph is also inclosed from another ancient Mexican manuscript in course of publication by Mrs. Nuttall. In this (Fig. 2) the player has the turtle's shell and is pounding on it with a pronged stick, PSM V54 D735 Turtle shell percussion instrument.pngFig. 3. horn, or branch, while in the other hand he holds a rattle and at the same time sings, the notes being graphically portrayed as they come from his mouth. It will be observed that it is the plastron or ventral surface that he is striking, as shown by the notches in its forward and hinder edges, though the plates are incorrectly drawn. In the figure given by Mr. Saville the player is holding the turtle's shell in precisely that position that would enable him to strike the plastron. Even in Mr. Saville's figure the marginal plates of the shell are plainly indicated. By holding the figure face downward the shell is thrown in a normal position with the back uppermost, and what was mistaken for the string of the instrument is the outline of the back of the turtle correctly delineated. With the above figures I give the outline of the left arm and body of a friend who posed for me while holding a large South American turtle under his arm. I have drawn the plates of the carapace to more clearly indicate the position of the turtle's shell. In the original codex, as before remarked, this portion is colored blue. In this attitude the flat plastron forms the drumhead, so to speak, the carapace acting as a resonator. I am sure that Mr. Saville will agree with me that Mrs. Nuttall's attribution is the correct one.

Edward S. Morse.


Rebreathed Air as a Poison.—The following extracts are taken from an article by Dr. John Hartley, in the Lancet: "The freshair treatment of consumption" appears to be made up of three essential factors: (1) the discontinuance of the supply of bacilli from without; (2) the supply of an abundance of nutritive material to the tissues; and (3) the supply of an abundance of fresh air uncontaminated by the products of respiration. This seems to mean that the tissues, if not too enfeebled, may be trusted to deal with the bacilli already present if their metabolism is kept going at high pressure. Fresh air is now the "official" remedy in the treatment of tubercle. Why is it so ignored in the case of other diseases? Has the pneumonic or bronchitic no need of special ventilation because his microbe is of a different breed? The air was intended not only for phthisical patients or patients suffering from pneumonia but for all—diseased and healthy alike—and it is still the natural medium in which the poisonous products of tissue metabolism excreted by the lungs are further broken down and rendered harmless. Dr. A. Ransome has done great service not only by his onslaught on "air sewage" but also by his coinage of the term; for a thoroughly good opprobrious epithet resembles a good wall-poster in its power of arresting and enchaining the attention of the many. It was long ago pointed out that certain constituents of expired air are intensely powerful nerve poisons. These considerations should surely make us look on rebreathed air and sewer gas, not as mere carriers of accidental poisons, such as influenza and pneumonia and the like, but as poisons per se, and I wish to be allowed to record a few very imperfect observations made by myself during some years past chiefly on the subject of rebreathed air, with certain inferences which I think tend, however feebly and imperfectly, to show that the poisons we expire have per se very definite effects on tissue metabolism and need not a mere perfunctory admixture with fresh air but very large and very continuous dilution before they are rendered innocuous—that is to say, innocuous to all; for while some persons appear to be almost immune, others seem intensely susceptible. The first observation I will allude to was made in the autumn of 1896, in cool weather. T had to take a long night journey by rail after a long and hard day's work. The train was full and the compartment I entered was close; so, as I was tired and fagged, I sat in the corridor by an open window, well rugged up, throughout the journey. The compartment was completely shut off from the corridor by a glass door and windows, through which I could freely inspect its occupants. Two remarkably fresh-complexioned, wholesome-looking young fellows got into the compartment at York. They formed a remarkable contrast to the pallid and fagged-looking travelers already there. The windows and ventilators were carefully closed, and the newcomers, with the rest, settled off to sleep and slept soundly for nearly four hours, with the exception of a few minutes' interval at Grantham. When aroused on nearing London they, like the other occupants of the compartment, were haggard and leaden-hued, their fresh color was entirely gone, and they looked and moved as if exhausted. I examined my own face in the lavatory mirror at the beginning and end of the journey and could see but little alteration in my color; if anything, it was rather improved by the end of the journey. The second case occurred early in 1897. I was asked to see a woman, aged about forty-eight years, who had been treated in a neighboring town for many weeks for bronchitis and asthma following influenza. She had relapsed about a week when I first saw her. She was then sitting up in bed; her face was leaden-colored, her skin was clammy and sweating, with a feeble, quick pulse, and the heart sounds were indistinguishable owing to wheezing; there was some crepitation at the bases. The temperature was about 101° F. The weather was cold, but after wrapping her up, with a hot bottle to her feet, the window was well opened. Her color improved in a few minutes and the sweating ceased soon after. But it and the blueness returned if the window was shut for any time. It was directed to be kept open night and day, and I could see from my house that this order was carried out. Although on one night the thermometer showed 14° F. of frost the chest was clear of noises and she was convalescent in eight days. If fresh air needs warming she ought to have died. Why do most men feel so tired after an afternoon's work in a crowded out-patient room? Why is a long journey in a full railway carriage, even with a comfortable seat, so exhausting to many people? Personally an hour or two in a full carriage with the windows shut will give me numbness in my feet and legs and knock me up for the day, while a railway journey in an empty carriage with open windows does not affect me at all. But most people will be willing to admit that any kind of crowd is tiring. It is to me difficult to resist the impression than an overdose of waste products, whether of one's own or other people's, must generally interfere with the metabolism of nerve tissue. Women as they grow older are apt to live much indoors. I believe the fat, flabby, paunchy woman, whether purple or pale, with feeble, irritable heart and "inadequate" kidneys, is usually the victim of rebreathed air. A "close" room will infallibly give me an abdominal distention and borborygmi within half an hour, and I am inclined to think the purity of the air breathed by the dyspeptic quite as important as his regimen or his teeth. It must, I think, sooner or later be recognized that many of the increasing ills which it has been the fashion to charge on the "hurry and brain fag" incidental to a high state of civilisation and a large population are in reality due to the greater contamination of the air we breathe by the waste products of that population, and that toxines excreted by the lungs will in time take high rank among these as both potent and insidious. If this should come to pass, the present ideas anent ventilation must be abandoned as utterly futile, and the need will be felt, not of letting a little air in, but of letting waste products out.


The Utilization of Wave Power.—The utilization of the energy which goes to waste in the movement of water, in waves, tides, and waterfalls, has been a much-studied problem during recent years. The only one of these three phenomena which has as yet been at all extensively commercially harnessed is the waterfall. There have, however, been a number of wave and tide motors constructed. The most recent and perhaps the most promising of these is the type invented by Mr. Morley Fletcher, of Westminster, England. He has made a special study of the problem of motion of the sea, and has already successfully constructed a hydraulic pump, an electric motor, and a self contained siren buoy in which the energy is obtained entirely from wave motion. The great possibilities in this direction for cheap and efficient power plants have not been appreciated by seacoast towns, but it is stated in Industries and Iron, from which we have taken the above particulars, that Mr. Fletcher is at present devoting his attention to devising schemes and designing apparatus for pumping sea water for shore purposes, ore washing, driving electric machinery for town lighting and power plants, buoys for marking harbors with beacons and fog horns, and the many other purposes to which such a constant and inexhaustible source of energy is applicable.


Dispersal of Seeds.—Having described in the Plant World some of the provisions of Nature for the dispersal of seeds, Prof. W. J. Beal adds that these various devices, besides serving to extend and multiply the species and promote its plantation on favorable soil, enable plants to flee from too great crowding of their own kind and from their plant rivals and parasites. "The adventurers among plants often meet with the best success, not because the seeds are larger or stronger or better, but because they find for a time more congenial surroundings. Our weeds, for instance, are carried for long distances by man and by him are planted in new ground that has been well prepared. Every horticulturist knows that apples grown in a new country, if suitable for apples, are fair and healthy, but the sea!) and codling moth and bitter rot and bark louse sooner or later arrive, each to begin its peculiar mode of warfare." So with peach trees and plums and their enemies. The surest way to grow a few cabbages, radishes, squashes, cucumbers, and potatoes is to plant them here and there in good soil at considerable distances from where any have heretofore been grown. "For a time enemies do not find them." Pear trees planted scatteringly are more likely to remain healthy than in orchards. "Perhaps one reason why plants have become extinct or nearly so is their lack of means of migration. As animals starve out in certain seasons when food is scarce, or more likely migrate to regions which can afford food, so plants desert wornout land and seek fresh fields. As animals retreat to secluded and isolated spots to escape their enemies, so many plants accomplish the same thing by finding the best places with some of their seeds sown in many regions. Frequent rotations seem to be the rule for many plants when left to themselves in a state of nature. Confining to a permanent spot invites parasites and other enemies and a depleted soil, while health and vigor are secured by frequent migrations."


Commensals.—Curious associations are formed among animals for mutual aid in the struggle for existence. Some of them are societies of the same species, like those of ants and bees; colonies in which many individuals—as ascidians and bryozoa—join into a single mass and act as one; and associations of animals of different species constituting commensalism where both are benefited, or parasitism, when the advantage accrues to only one of the parties. The hermit crab and certain ascidians furnish very fine examples of commensalism. The hermit crab is known as an inhabitant of shells bereft of their proper owners. Some sea anemones also fasten themselves on shells, and seem to prefer those which have been adopted by hermit crabs. The association is shown by M. Henri Coupan, in La Nature, to be one of mutual benefit. The actinia defends the crab and its home against all intruders by means of its tentacles—veritable batteries of prickly stings; while the crab, with its long claws reaching out to catch whatever is good to eat, brings food within reach of the ascidian. Mr. Percival Wright, having taken the crab from a shell to which an ascidian had attached itself, found that the latter abandoned the shell in a short time. M. L. Faunt reversed the experiment, taking the ascidian away, when the crab deserted its quarters, found a shell with the ascidian on it, and occupied it very quickly. He further observed the maneuvers executed by the crab to secure the attachment of an ascidian to its shell. Sometimes a large ascidian will wholly cover a shell; or several smaller ones will spread themselves over the same shell so as to form a continuous envelope over it. The ascidians become so attached to their commensals as to seem unable to live without them, and even to die soon after being separated from them.


Drift of Ocean Currents.—Of sixteen hundred and seventy-five floats bearing requests to the finder to return them which Prince Albert of Monaco dropped into the Atlantic during three research cruises, with a view to learning something of the movements of surface currents, two hundred and twenty-six were returned to him up to the year 1892. By working the course which each of them had probably been following, the prince undertook to draw a definite map of the currents. As the elements employed were always numerous for each region, he thinks his results were near the truth in its general lines. The floats landed on almost all the shores of the North Atlantic, from the North Cape to the south of Morocco, along Central America, and on the islands of Canaries, Madeira, Azores, Antilles, Bermudas, Shetland, Hebrides, Orkneys, and Iceland. None appeared as far south as the Cape Verd Islands. The drifts seem to indicate an immense vortex, beginning toward the Antilles and Central America with the Gulf Stream and the equatorial current; passing the Banks of Newfoundland at a tangent, it turns to the east, approaches the European coasts, and runs southward from the English Channel to Gibraltar, after having sent a branch running along the coast of Ireland and the coast of Norway as far as the North Cape. It then returns to the west, encircling the Canaries. Its center oscillates somewhere to the southwest of the Azores. The author's observations enabled him also to establish a very good average for the speed at which these floats traveled in the different sections of the vortex, and for every twenty-four hours: Between the Azores, France, Portugal, and the Canaries, it was 5.18 miles; from the Canaries to the Antilles, the Bahamas, and as far as the Bermudas, 10.11 miles; from the Bermudas to the Azores, 6.42 miles. The mean speed for the North Atlantic was 4.48 miles. The figures are under rather than above the truth.


Winds of the Sahara.—Some interesting meteorological observations, made in the Sahara during eight excursions between 1883 and 1896, have been published by M. F. Foureau. The most frequent winds are those from the northwest and the southeast. Every evening the wind goes down with the sun, or goes to bed, as the Chaambe express it; except the northeast wind, which the Arabs call el chitâne, or the devil, because it blows all night. Another wind, called the chihithi, has been mentioned by all travelers, and is the subject of numerous legends. It is a warm wind from the southwest, charged with electricity, and often carrying fine sand and darkening the atmosphere. The compasses are much disturbed by it, because, it has been suggested, of a special condition produced upon thin glass covers by the friction caused by the rubbing of the fine wind-carried sand upon them; but it has been observed that the spare compasses show the same disturbed condition as soon as they are taken out of their boxes. The disturbance ceases when the glasses are moistened, and does not appear again till they have dried. Several hailstorms were noticed, the hailstones being usually about as large as peas, but larger in the heavier storms. M. Foureau, not having gone as far as the central heights, observed no snow in the Sahara, but was informed that snow falls in the winter on the tops of the Tassili des Azdjer, about five thousand feet above the sea. Similar observations have been made by other travelers, and falls of temperature to about 21° F. have been noticed. Very curious mirage phenomena were sometimes observed. Observations of fulgurites, or instances in which the sand had been vitrified by lightning strokes, were not infrequent.


Evolution of Pleasure Gardens.—A lesson in the evolution of pleasure resorts is suggested in a book by Mr. Warwick Wroth on the London pleasure gardens. The history of these places has in some cases a strong family resemblance. They usually began as tea gardens, with a bowling green, tea and coffee, hot loaves, and milk "fresh from the cow," as their chief attractions. If the business prospered, other amusements were added, such as music and dancing, with perhaps the exhibition of a giant or a fat woman. Equestrian performances were given in the more important gardens. The manager of one of them kept on the grounds a fine collection of rattlesnakes, one having nineteen rattles and "seven young ones." "Sixteen hundred visitors were present at another one day in August, 1744, to hear honest 'Jo Baker' beat a trevally on his side-drum as he did before the great Duke of Marlborough at the bloody battle of Malplaquet. It was not unusual, moreover, for the owner of a successful tavern to discover on his premises a mineral spring, of which a favorable analysis was easily obtained"—although the spring might be really a bad one. The Spa of Hampstead Wells enjoyed a delightfully pure and invigorating air on the open heath, and had a tavern with coffee rooms, a bowling green, raffling shops, and a chapel, which offered visitors an advantage possessed by no other gardens in London, as a clergyman was always in attendance, and a couple on presenting a license could be married at once on the payment of five shillings. Mr. Wroth suggests that the license was sometimes dispensed with, and the fee, moreover, was remitted if the wedded pair gave a dinner in the gardens.


A Library of Astronomical Photographs.—The appointment of Mrs. M. P. Fleming as curator of astronomical photographs in the Harvard Observatory is noteworthy because hers is the first woman's name to be placed along with the officers in the university catalogue. It is more so as a recognition of Mrs. Fleming's proved abilities in certain lines of astronomical work. The astrophotographic building is not used for the taking of photographs, but as a peculiar kind of library where the plates secured by the astronomers at Cambridge and Arequipa are preserved, arranged, and catalogued, as is done with books. The duties of the curator are like those of a librarian. But instead of books, of which many copies exist, each of the treasures in the photographic collection is unique and can not be duplicated. Prints of them on paper are of little scientific value, because no paper copy can repeat all the minute accuracy of the original negative on glass; and prints are not taken from them for scientific use, but only for illustration. If one is destroyed it can never be replaced; and it is impossible to predict what fact one of them may embody of the greatest importance to the labors of some future astronomer desiring to compare the aspect of his special object of research at his period and ours. Mrs. Fleming's name is frequently mentioned in the reports of the observatory, and she has distinguished herself in several lines of stellar investigation. She has about a dozen women assistants, some of whom are computers of long experience, and some are known by the discoveries they have made.


Forest Planting on the Plains.—Mr. Charles A. Keffer, in a report to the Forestry Division on Experimental Tree Planting in the Plains, defines the forestless region of America as including all the States between the Mississippi River north of the Ozark Mountains and eastern Texas and the Rocky Mountains, together with the plateau west of the Rocky Mountains. The possibilities of forest growth in this vast area are yet to be proved. Roughly speaking, any species that thrive in the adjacent wooded region can be grown in Iowa, the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota, the Sioux Valley of South Dakota and the eastern counties of Nebraska, and in the more southern States. We know that difficulties of cultivation increase as one goes westward, but we can not say where the western limit of successful tree culture is. We can not even define the limits of successful agriculture in the plains, for with increased facilities for irrigation splendid crops are now produced where only a few years ago it was thought desert conditions would forever prevail. It is admitted that forest planting, as a financial investment, will probably be profitable on the plains only in a limited degree. Favorable sites may enable the profitable raising of fence posts and other specialized tree crops, but the growing of timber on a commercial scale can hardly be expected.


A Siamese Geological Theory.—The east coast of Siam as far south as Champawn is characterized by wide bays, with detached masses of limestone set on steep-sided islands or high-peaked promontories with serrated ridges, the most conspicuous of which is Sam Roi Yawt, or the three hundred peaks. The relations of these various rock masses to one another, Mr. H. Warington Smyth observed, in an address to the Royal Geographical Society, have been long ago lucidly set forth by Siamese geologists, who are unanimously agreed on the subject. "It appears that one Mong Lai and his wife once inhabited the neighborhood (they were giants), and each promised their daughter in marriage, unknown to the other, to a different suitor. At last the day of the nuptials arrived, and Chao Lai and the Lord of Mieang Chin (China) both arrived to claim the bride. When the horrified father found how matters stood—having a regard for the value of a promise, which is not too common in the East—he cut his daughter in half, so that neither suitor should be disappointed. Chao Lai, in the meantime, on finding that he had a rival, committed suicide, and the peak of Chaolai is the remains of his body. The unfortunate bride is to be found in the islands off Sam Roi Yawt, the peaks of which are the remains of the gifts which were to be made to the holy man who was to solemnize the wedding; while Kaw Chang and Kaw King, on the east side of the gulf, are the elephant and buffalo cart in which the presents were brought."


"The Hell of War."—The Cost of a National Crime and The Hell of War and its Penalties are the appropriate names which Edward Atkinson has given to two essays bearing upon the craze for expansion in which the nation has been abruptly plunged. In them an evil which has not yet received due attention, if any, is presented as sure to be inflicted upon us if the policy of militarism is persisted in. "How much increase of taxation," Mr. Atkinson asks, "are you willing to bear, and how many of your neighbors' sons are you ready to sacrifice by fever, malaria, and venereal disease, in order to extend the sovereignty of the United States over the West Indies and the Philippine Islands?" Another question is put to the missionary enthusiasts: "It may be well to ask all who are imbued with this missionary sympathy, How many young men of your own brotherhood are you willing to sacrifice for each convert? How many of your own sons will you expose to sure infection and degeneration in the conduct of your philanthropic purpose? Or will you satisfy your own conscience by consenting to the necessary conscription of other people's sons when it presently becomes impossible to maintain our armed forces in those islands without a draft?" Mr. Atkinson says that his attention has been called to this phase of the evil attendant upon military occupation in the course of his social studies. "The greatest and most unavoidable danger," he writes to the commander in chief of our armies, "to which these forces will be exposed will be neither fevers nor malaria; it will be venereal diseases in their worst and most malignant form."