Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

suspicious of the various statements to that effect which have appeared in so many works, and rather disposed to make light of the ingenious theories launched by biological speculators who have never set foot in Mexico, especially Weismann’s picture of the dismal condition of the salt-incrusted surroundings which were supposed to have hemmed in the axolotl—the brackish Lago de Texcoco, the largest of the lakes near Mexico, being evidently in the philosopher’s mind.

Thanks to the enthusiasm of H. Gadow during his visit to Mexico in the summer of 1902, we are now better informed on the conditions under which the axolotl lives near Mexico City. First, he ascertained that there are no axolotls at all in the Lago de Texcoco, thus disposing at once of the Weismannian explanation; secondly, he confirmed A. Dugès’s statement that there is a second species of Amblystoma, which is normal in its metamorphosis, near Mexico but at a higher altitude, which may explain Velasco’s observation that regularly transforming Amblystomas occur near that city; and thirdly, he made a careful examination of the two lakes, Chalco and Xochimilco, where the axolotls occur in abundance and are procured for the market. The following is an abstract of Gadow’s very interesting account. “Lakes Chalco and Xochimilco are a paradise, situated about 10 ft. higher than the Texcoco Lake and separated from it by several hills. High mountains slope down to the southern shores, with a belt of fertile pastures, with shrubs and trees and little streams, here and there with rocks and ravines. In fact, there are thousands of inviting opportunities for newts to leave the lake if they wanted to do so. Lake Xochimilco contains powerful springs, but away from them the water appears dark and muddy, full of suspended fresh and decomposing vegetable matter, teeming with fish, larvae of insects, Daphniae, worms and axolotl. These breed in the beginning of February. The native fishermen know all about them; how the eggs are fastened to the water plants, how soon after the little larvae swarm about in thousands, how fast they grow, until by the month of June they are all grown into big, fat creatures ready for the market; later in the summer the axolotls are said to take to the rushes, in the autumn they become scarce, but none have ever been known to leave the water or to metamorphose, nor are any perfect Amblystomas found in the vicinity of the two lakes.”

In Gadow’s opinion, the reason why there are only perennibranchiate axolotls in these lakes is obvious. The constant abundance of food, stable amount of water, innumerable hiding-places in the mud, under the banks, amongst the reeds and roots of the floating islands which are scattered all over them,—all these points are inducements or attractions so great that the creatures remain in their paradise and consequently retain all those larval features which are not directly connected with sexual maturity. There is nothing whatever to prevent them from leaving these lakes, but there is also nothing to induce them to do so. The same applies occasionally to European larvae, as in the case observed in the Italian Alps by F. de Filippi. Nevertheless, in the axolotl the latent tendency can still be revived, as we have seen above and as is proved by the experiments of Marie von Chauvin. When once sexually ripe the axolotl are apparently incapable of changing, but their ancestral course of evolution is still latent in them, and will, if favoured by circumstances, reappear in following generations.

Bibliography.—G. Cuvier, Mém. Instit. Nation. (1807), p. 149, and in A. Humboldt and A. Bompland, Observ. zool. i. (1811), p. 93; L. Calori, Mem. Acc. Bologna, iii. (1851), p. 269; A. Duméril, Comptes rendus, lx. (1865), p. 765, and N. Arch. Mus. ii. (1866), p. 265; E. Blanchard, Comptes rendus, lxxxii. (1876), p. 716; A. Weismann, Z. wiss. Zool. xxv. (Suppl. 1875), p. 297; M. von Chauvin, Z. wiss. Zool. xxvii. (1876), p. 522; F. de Filippi, Arch. p. la zool. i. (1862), p. 206; G. Hahn, Rev. Quest. Sci. Brussels (2), i. (1892), p. 178; H. Gadow, Nature, lxvii. (1903), p. 330.  (G. A. B.) 

AXUM, or Aksum, an ancient city in the province of Tigré, Abyssinia (14° 7' 52" N., 38° 31' 10" E.; altitude, 7226 ft.), 12 m. W. by S. of Adowa. Many European travellers have given descriptions of its monuments, though none of them has stayed there more than a few days. The name, written Aksm and Aksum in the Sabaean and Ethiopic inscriptions in the place, is found in classical and early Christian writers in the forms of Auxome, Axumis, Axume, &c., the first mention being in the Periplus Maris Erythraei (c. A.D. 67), where it is said to be the seat of a kingdom, and the emporium for the ivory brought from the west. For the history of this kingdom see Ethiopia. J. T. Bent conjectured that the seat of government was transferred to Axum from Jeha, which he identified with the ancient Ava; and according to a document quoted by Achille Raffray the third Christian monarch transferred it from Axum to Lalibela. This second transference probably took place very much later; in spite of it, the custom of crowning Abyssinian kings at Axum continued, and King John was crowned there as late as 1871 or 1872. A. B. Wylde conjectures that it had become unsuitable for a royal seat by having acquired the status of a sacred city, and thus affording sanctuary to criminals and political offenders within the chief church and a considerable area round it, where there are various houses in which such persons can be lodged and entertained. This same sanctity makes it serve as a depository for goods of all sorts in times of danger, the chief church forming a sort of bank. The present town, containing less than a thousand houses, is supposed to occupy only a small portion of the area covered by the ancient city; it lies in a kloof or valley, but the old town must have been built on the western ridge rather than in the valley, as the traces of well-dressed stones are more numerous there than elsewhere.

Most of the antiquities of Axum still await excavation; those that have been described consist mainly of obelisks, of which about fifty are still standing, while many more are fallen. They form a consecutive series from rude unhewn stones to highly finished obelisks, of which the tallest still erect is 60 ft. in height, with 8 ft. 7 in. extreme front width; others that are fallen may have been taller. The highly finished monoliths are all representations of a many-storeyed castle, with an altar at the base of each. They appear to be connected with Semitic sun-worship, and are assigned by Bent to the same period as the temple at Baalbek, though some antiquarians would place them much earlier; the representation of a castle in a single stone seems to bear some relation to the idea worked out in the monolith churches of Lalibela described by Raffray. The fall of many of the monuments, according to Bent, was caused by the washing away of the foundations by the stream called Mai Shum, and indeed the native tradition states that “Gudert, queen of the Amhara,” when she visited Axum, destroyed the chief obelisk in this way by digging a trench from the river to its foundation. Others attribute it to religious fanaticism, or to the result of some barbaric invasion, such as Axum may have repeatedly endured before it was sacked by Mahommed Gran, sultan of Harrar, about 1535.

Literature.—Classical references to Axum are collected by Pietschmann in Pauly’s Realencyclopädie (2nd ed.); for the history as derived from the inscriptions see D. H. Müller, Appendix to E. T. Bent’s Sacred City of the Ethiopians (London, 1893), and Glaser, Die Abessinier in Arabien (Munich, 1895). For the antiquities, Bruce’s Travels (1790); Salt, in the Travels of Viscount Valentia (London, 1809), iii. 87-97 and 178-200; J. T. Bent, l.c.; and A. B. Wylde, Modern Abyssinia (London, 1901). For geology, Schimper, in the Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde (Berlin, 1869).  (D. S. M.*) 

AY, AYE. The word “aye,” meaning always (and pronounced as in “day”; connected with Gr. ἀεί, always, and Lat. aevum, an age), is often spelt “ay,” and the New English Dictionary prefers this. “Aye,” meaning Yes (and pronounced almost like the word “eye”), though sometimes identified with “yea,” is probably the same word etymologically, though differentiated by usage; the form “ay” for this is also common, but inconvenient; at one time it was spelt simply I (e.g. in Michael Drayton’s Idea, 57; published in 1593).

AYACUCHO, a city and department of central Peru, formerly known as Guamanga or Huamanga, renamed from the small plain of Ayacucho (Quichua, “corner of death”). This lies near the village of Quinua, in an elevated valley 11,600 ft. above sea-level, where a decisive battle was fought between General Sucré and the Spanish viceroy La Serna in 1824, which resulted in the defeat of the latter and the independence of Peru. The city of Ayacucho, capital of the department of that name