Page:EB1911 - Volume 02.djvu/785

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[EXPLORATION
ASIA
will greatly help to elucidate some of the problems which beset the geological history of the world, proving inter alia the primeval existence of a boreal zone of the Jurassic sea round the North Pole.
In no other period of the world’s history, of equal length of time, has so much scientific enterprise been directed towards the field of Asiatic inquiry. The first great result of recent geographical research has been to modify pre-existing ideas of General results of investigation. the orography of the vast central region represented by Tibet and Mongolia. The great highland plateau which stretches from the Himalaya northwards to Chinese Turkestan, and from the frontier of Kashmir eastwards to China, has now been defined with comparative geographical exactness. The position of Sachu (or Saitu) in Mongolia may be taken as an obligatory point in modern map construction. The longitude value now adopted is 94° 54′ E. of Greenwich, which is the revised value given by Prjevalsky in the map accompanying the account of his fourth exploration into central Asia. Other values are as follows:—


Prjevalsky, by his second and third explorations           94° 26′
Krishna 94° 23′
Carey and Dalgleish 94° 48′
Littledale 94° 49′
Kreitner (with Szecheny’s expedition) 94° 58′


The longitude of Darchendo, or Tachienlu, on the extreme east, may be accepted as another obligatory point. The adopted value by the Royal Geographical Society is 102° 12″. Krishna gives 102° 15″, Kreitner 102° 5″, Baber 102° 18″.
South and west the bounding territories are well fixed in geographical position by the Indian survey determinations of the value of Himalayan peaks. On the north the Chinese Turkestan explorations are now brought into survey connexion with Kashmir and India.
No longer do we regard the Kuen-lun mountains, which extend from the frontiers of Kashmir, north of Leh, almost due east to the Chinese province of Kansu, as the southern limit of the Gobi or Turkestan depression. This very remarkable longitudinal chain is undoubtedly the northern limit of the Chang Tang, the elevated highland steppes of Tibet; but from it there branches a minor system to the north-east from a point in about 83° E. longitude, which culminates in the Altyn Tagh, and extends eastwards in a continuous water-divide to the Nan Shan mountains, north of the Koko Nor basin. Thus between Tibet and the low-lying sands of Gobi we have, thrust in, a system of elevated valleys (Tsaidam), 8000 to 9000 ft. above sea-level, forming an intermediate steppe between the highest regions and the lowest, east of Lop Nor. All this is comparatively new geography, and it goes far to explain why the great trade routes from Peking to the west were pushed so far to the north.
On the western edge of the Kashgar plains, the political boundary between Russia and China is defined by the meridional range of Sarikol. This range (known to the ancients as Taurus and in medieval times as Bolor) like many others of the Russo-Chinese boundary. most important great natural mountain divisions of the world, consists of two parallel chains, of which the western is the water-divide of the Pamirs, and the eastern (which has been known as the Kashgar or Kandar range) is split at intervals by lateral gorges to allow of the passage of the main drainage from the eastern Pamir slopes.
In western Asia we have learned the exact value of the mountain barrier which lies between Merv and Herat, and have mapped its connexion with the Elburz of Persia. We can now fully appreciate the factor in practical politics which Indian frontiers—Afghanistan, &c. that definite but somewhat irregular mountain system represents which connects the water-divide north of Herat with the southern abutment of the Hindu Kush, near Bamian. Every pass of importance is known and recorded; every route of significance has been explored and mapped; Afghanistan has assumed a new political entity by the demarcation of a boundary; the value of Herat and of the Pamirs as bases of aggression has been assessed, and the whole intervening space of mountain and plain thoroughly examined.
Although within the limits of western Asiatic states, still under Asiatic government and beyond the active influence of European interests, the material progress of the Eastern world has appeared to remain stationary, yet large accessions to Persia. geographical knowledge have at least been made, and in some instances a deeper knowledge of the surface of the country and modern conditions of life has led to the straightening of many crooked paths in history, and a better appreciation of the slow processes of advancing civilization. The steady advance of scientific inquiry into every corner of Persia, backed by the unceasing efforts of a new school of geographical explorers, has left nothing unexamined that can be subjected to superficial observation. The geographical map of the country is fairly complete, and with it much detailed information is now accessible regarding the coast and harbours of the Persian Gulf, the routes and passes of the interior, and the possibilities of commercial development by the construction of trade roads uniting the Caspian, the Karun, the Persian Gulf, and India, via Seistan. Persia has assumed a comprehensible position as a factor in future Eastern politics.
In Arabia progress has been slower, although the surveys carried out by Colonel Wahab in connexion with the boundary determined in the Aden hinterland added more exact geographical knowledge within a limited area. Little more is known Arabia. of the wide spaces of interior desert than has already been given to the world in the works of Sir Richard F. Burton, Wm. Gifford Palgrave and Sir Lewis Pelly amongst Englishmen, and Karsten Niebuhr, John Lewis Burckhardt, Visconte, Joseph Halévy and others, amongst foreign travellers. Charles Doughty and Wilfrid S. Blunt have visited and illustrated the district of Nejd, and described the waning glories of the Wahabi empire. But extended geographical knowledge does not point to any great practical issue. Commercial relations with Arabia remain much as they were in 1875.
In Asia Minor, Syria and Mesopotamia there is little to record of progress in material development beyond the promises held out by the Euphrates Valley railway concession to a Asia Minor, &c. German company. The exact information obtained by the researches of English surveyors in Palestine and beyond Jordan, or by the efforts of explorers in the regions that lie between the Mediterranean and the Caspian, have so far led rather to the elucidation of history than to fresh commercial enterprise or the possible increase of material wealth.
Asiatic Russia, especially eastern Siberia and Mongolia, have been brought within the sphere of Russian exploration, with results so surprising as to form an epoch in the history of Asia. Russia in Asia. Here there has been a development of the resources of the Old World which parallels the best records of the New.
The great central depression of the continent which reaches from the foot of the Pamir plateau on the west through the Tarim desert to Lop Nor and the Gobi has yielded up many interesting secrets. The remarkable phenomenon of the periodic Chinese Turkestan and Oxus basin. shifting of the Lop Nor system has been revealed by the researches of Sven Hedin, and the former existence of highly civilized centres of Buddhist art and industry in the now sand-strewn wastes of the Turkestan desert has been clearly demonstrated by the same great explorer and by Dr M. A. Stein. The depression westward of the Caspian and Aral basins, and the original connexion of these seas, have also come under the close investigation of Russian scientists, with the result that the theory of an ancient connexion between the Oxus and the Caspian has been displaced by the more recent hypothesis of an extension of the Caspian Sea eastwards into Trans-Caspian territory within the post-Pleiocene age. The discovery of shells (now living in the Caspian) at a distance of about 100 m. inland, at an altitude of 140 to 280 ft. above the present level of the Caspian, gives support to this hypothesis, which is further advanced by the ascertained nature of the Kara-kum sands, which appear to be a purely marine formation exhibiting no traces of fluviatile deposits which might be considered as delta deposits of the Oxus.
In the discussion of this problem we find the names of Baron A. Kaulbars, Annentkov, P. M. Lessar, and A. M. Konshin prominent. Further matter of interest in connexion with the Oxus basin was elucidated by the researches of L. Griesbach in connexion with the Russo-Afghan Boundary Commission. He reported the gradual formation of an anticlinal or ridge extending longitudinally through the great Balkh plain of Afghan Turkestan, which effectually shuts off the northern affluents of that basin from actual junction with the river. This evidence of a gradual process of upheaval still in action may throw some light on the physical (especially the climatic) changes which must have passed over that part of Asia since Balkh was the “mother of cities,” the great trade centre of Asia, and the plains of Balkh were green with cultivation. In the restoration of the outlines of ancient and medieval geography in Asia Sven Hedin’s discoveries of the actual remains of cities which have long been buried under the advancing waves of sand in the Takla Makan desert, cities which flourished in the comparatively recent period of Buddhist ascendancy in High Asia, is of the very highest interest, filling up a blank in the identification of sites mentioned by early geographers and illustrating more fully the course of old pilgrim routes.
With the completion of the surveys of Baluchistan and Makran much light has also been thrown on the ancient connexion between Baluchistan and Makran. east and west; and the final settlement of the southern boundaries of Afghanistan has led to the reopening of one at least of the old trade routes between Seistan and India.
Farther east no part of Asia has been brought under more careful investigation than the hydrography of the strange mountain wilderness that divides Tibet and Burma from China. In this field the researches of travellers already mentioned, Burma and China. combined with the more exact reconnaissance of native surveyors and of those exploring parties which have recently been working in the interests of commercial projects, have left little to future inquiry. We know now for certain that the great Tsanpo of Tibet and the Brahmaputra are one and the same river; that north of the point where the great countermarch of that river from east to west is effected are to be found the sources of the Salween, the Mekong, the Yang-tsze-kiang and the Hwang-ho, or Yellow river, in order, from west to east; and that south of it, thrust in between the extreme eastern edge of the Brahmaputra basin