Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/882

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

firearms. As the Slavic Peron and the Scandinavian Thor traverse the sky during storms in chariots drawn by two horses or two bucks, and as Elijah ascended to heaven in the midst of lightnings and thunders in a chariot drawn by two horses, the Russian, Servian, and Bulgarian peasants hear in the thunder the rolling of Elias's chariot wheels and imagine him chastising God's enemies with thunderbolts. A solemn festival to Elias is held in Russia at the season when droughts usually occur, in which the saint is invoked to let the rain fall. There were at Novgorod in the middle ages two churches, one dedicated to Elias humid and the other to Elias dry, to which processions marched according to the kind of weather that was wanted. Other ceremonies of devotion to Elias as the saint of the storm, and legends giving him the attributes of their old thunder god and associating him with meteorological phenomena characteristic of the Slavic countries, are described by M. Henri Galiment in the Revue de l'École d'Anthropologie, all going to illustrate how hard it is to eradicate the ideas and customs of their olden times from the minds of the people, and how the old persists in living by the side of the new; and teaching that when two forms of religion are standing in rivalry with one another, the younger, even with the aid of the secular arm, can never supplant the older except by making concessions to it.

 

Asiatic and African Explorations in 1896.—The long list of geographical explorations accomplished during 1896, some of the most important features of which have already been mentioned in the Monthly, includes the exploration of a large region pertaining to the upper Yang-tse-Kiang River, Chinese Empire, by M. Bonin, a French officer in Tonkin, who visited countries not previously traversed by Europeans, and has been able to make important corrections in the map of the Yang-tse-Kiang and its tributaries. Dr. Sven Hedin, in exploring the Takla Makan, a continuation of the Desert of Gobi, has found the ruins of two of the towns said to be partly buried in the desert, and has made interesting investigations on the past and present hydrography of the Lob Nor region. M. D. Elements, sent out by the Siberian Geographical Society to the Khengai Mountains of northwest Mongolia, found a great glacier on the western slope of the mountain, and everywhere signs of former volcanic activity. A Russian expedition has been exploring the course of the Amu Daria, with a view to ascertaining if it would be possible to divert its waters by means of a canal into the Caspian Sea. The exploration of Asia Minor, predominantly archæological, has been continued by young men of the University of Oxford.

 

Antiquity of Writing.—It is observed by Dr. Bühler, in his book on Indian Palæography, that a very remote period is indicated for the beginning of writing by the fact that in a Jain text of about 300 b. c. its origin is forgotten and its invention attributed to the creator Brahma. Indian imitations of Greek drachmas prove that the Greek alphabet was employed in northwestern India before the time of Alexander the Great. Knowledge of the art of writing is established for the earliest Vedic period by one of the great works; and the grammarian Panini, who is assigned to the fourth century, mentions Greek writing and the words signifying writer. The evidence of the canonical books of Ceylon indicates that the knowledge of writing was pre-Buddhistic; and passages in the Jataka and in the Maha Vagga prove the existence, at the time of their composition, of writing schools and of a wooden slate, such as is still used in Indian elementary schools. Writing, as a subject of elementary instruction, is also mentioned in an inscription of the second century before Christ. The palæographical evidence of the Asoka inscription clearly shows that writing was no recent invention in the third century before Christ; for most of the letters have several, often very divergent, forms, sometimes nine or ten.

 

The St. Lawrence Drainage System.—The drainage system of the St. Lawrence River is characterized by Mr. G. K. Gilbert, in his paper on Niagara Falls and their History, as of exceptional character, in that it has no such continuous slope from the primary rill through the brook and succeeding tributaries and the river itself to the sea as mark the drainage systems of most other regions; but "the district is composed mainly of a group of great basins, like hollows, in each of which the surface slopes toward some