Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/263

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

In Great Britain, as on the Continent, salt was obtained before the advent of the Teutons or the Romans. Here, too, we find our guide in the syllable 'hal,' which occurs in place-names in Carnarvon, in Hampshire, in Lancaster and elsewhere. Plutarch has left upon record some evidence that points to a period when salt was practically unknown in Egypt. He says the priests will permit no salt upon their tables, will not address a pilot because of his occupation at sea, and that they also eschew fish for the same reason. Another passage seems to modify this strong statement to this extent that there are certain limes when the priests do not partake of salt for the reason that it increases the desire for food and drink. All Greek evidence on such points is, however, of small value, since to the Greeks Egypt was at all times a wonderland where the most singular and unique customs prevailed. Long before Plutarch's time Herodotus reported to his countrymen that the people of the Nile valley did everything different from his own countrymen. A special ceremony or a custom observed only on particular occasions was easily perverted to a general usage by persons who had merely a superficial knowledge of the conditions.

Northern Africa has from time immemorial been a great storehouse of salt. Thebes in Egypt was the starting point for caravans that moved across it towards the west, perhaps as far as the Niger. Herodotus relates that a ten-day journey from the city heaps of the mineral lie in large lumps upon the hills and that from the tops of these hills salt water gushes forth. It is in this region that the Ammonians dwell, in whose district is the celebrated temple of Jupiter Ammon. The oasis is the bottom of what was once a salt lake or part of the sea and still has many salt springs in it. The soil is also impregnated with salt, although there is no scarcity of fresh water. It is probable that the chemical compound known as sal ammoniac gets its name from this region, either because it was first manufactured here or because it was found here in its natural state.

In many parts of northern Africa, often at long distances from the coast, salt occurs in great abundance. Though there is generally stone in plenty, the inhabitants in some places use blocks of salt for constructing dwellings, since it is easier handled and there is no danger to be apprehended from rain, which rarely falls in this part of the world. The salt blocks employed for this purpose are, however, not pure. They are cemented with mud, probably owing to a scarcity of lime. Some portions of the Sahara are covered with a crust of salt to such an extent as to give long reaches the appearance of being covered with a recent fall of snow. Some of the statements of Herodotus and other ancient writers are perhaps exaggerated, but many of them are corroborated by recent explorers. M. Dubois in his work, 'Timbuctoo the Mysterious,' affirms that salt is as highly valued as ever in