Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/734

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Spontaneous Combustion.—Many fires, which appear to be of mysterious origin, can with great plausibility be referred to spontaneous combustion. Such was probably the cause of a fire which destroyed the carriage shops at Forest Hill, Maryland, a year or two ago. This is indicated by the fact that, shortly after the shops were rebuilt, a hole was burned through one of the floors and the establishment narrowly escaped destruction a second time from the spontaneous combustion of a rag saturated with Valentine's patent wood-filling, which had been left in the paint-room overnight. Rags similarly saturated had been carelessly left in the old building just before the fire. To test the liability of this substance to take fire, a cloth was saturated with it and put in a tin bucket. Combustion began within a few hours afterward. Lamp-black is extremely liable to take fire spontaneously, particularly if a small quantity of oil is in contact with it. It can not be safely wrapped up in printed paper on account of the danger from the oil in the ink. A tub of loose lamp-black in a carriage-shop in England was set on fire in consequence of the presence of a palette knife on which a little oil had been left. Even the dry paint which accumulates on the blades of these knives near the handle is sufficient to cause ignition. It is, however, only the small quantities of oil that are dangerous; the peril is greatly reduced if the lampblack is saturated with oil. The danger of the spontaneous combustion of coal in cargoes is generally recognized by shippers and insurance-men.

 

Chiriqui Funerals.—M. Alphonse Pinart has recently given an account, before the Ethnographical Society of Paris, of the burial-places and funeral customs of the Dorasks, a people of the Isthmus of Darien, whom he regards as of Mexican origin. The burial-places, called huacas, which he claims to have discovered and excavated, are most abundant in the valley of Chiriqui, though they may be found in some other places. They generally lie at the foot of little hills, and are always marked by the presence of stones covered with figures and inscriptions. They are shaped like a well, the entrance to which is marked by a cross of stones, some twenty feet, more or less, in diameter, and are from six to thirty feet deep. At the bottom are excavated niches, corresponding with the four points of the compass, in which are deposited the bones and the articles that are buried with them—garments, vessels of most perfect shape and finish, and ornaments of gold, either solid or mixed with copper, representing animals, and undoubtedly of artistic value. The bones in these tombs are always broken, in accordance with a custom which prescribes the breaking of them as one of the peculiar features of the funeral rites. On the death of one of the Indians, the body is wrapped in a cotton shroud, and, after a short ceremony with a funeral oration, is borne to a solitary place in the forest, where it is laid upon a kind of scaffold covered with branches of trees, and left for a year. At the expiration of this period, the kanuru, a functionary expressly designated for this duty, and who is the only one that can perform it without having to undergo a costly purification, goes to the spot and prepares the corpse for the final ceremonies. Removing the limbs, he collects the bones, cleanses them from all adhering flesh, and breaks them up, together with the skull, and compresses the fragments into a small packet no larger than a new-born child. Having performed this duty, he calls his assistants, who have been waiting in the vicinity, and they bear the packet to a kind of catafalque, around which funeral services are held through parts of three days. At sunset of the third day the kanuru goes alone with the body, the dresses, and the ornaments that have been provided for the sepulchre, to the family tomb. No white man has ever been permitted to witness this part of the ceremonies.

 

Capacity of Brazilian Indians.—An anthropological collection, illustrative of the life of the savage tribes of South America, particularly of Brazil, is now on exhibition in London. Besides the scientific and artistic value of the cabinet, the collector, Senhor C. Ribeiro, seeks to commend the value of the country for colonization, and to remove prejudices against it. Among other things, he wishes to show that the Botocudos Indians are not the dangerous savages they have been reported, and that