Popular Science Monthly/Volume 30/November 1886/Notes


The question of the origin of the red sunsets, which still continue to appear at times, is yet a subject of discussion. The theory of their being due to volcanic dust in the air is still most in favor, but their persistency is by some regarded as a cause of objection to it. Professor Newcomb suggests in "Nature" that, in order to reach a decisive conclusion on the matter, we must have observations made in regions where the upper atmosphere is exceptionally free from vapors and other attenuated matter, and where, consequently, the advent of such matter could be detected when it could not be determined at other places. He names the Cape of Good Hope as such a region, and hopes that observers there will give special attention to the investigation.

Professor F. W. Putnam gave, in the American Association, a résumé of results from his explorations of burial-places, mounds, and earthworks, during the past twenty years, in various parts of the United States. They go to show that successive peoples have inhabited the several regions of the country, and that the mounds were made by different people at different times, as evidenced by their structure and contents.

Professor Boyd Dawkins said, in a British Association paper on the exploration of Gop Cairn, commonly known as Queen Boadieca's tomb, and of the cave at St. Asaph, that the human remains found in the cave threw great light on the ethnology of the district in the bronze age, and proved that in the Neolithic age the population of that part of Wales was of the Iberian type. All the skulls were of this type save one, and that possessed all the characteristics usually found in a round-headed Celt of the bronze age. These appeared to indicate that fusion of the two races which has been going on ever since, and by which the Iberian type is at the present time being slowly obliterated.

Joseph Jastrow communicated to the American Association an account of some experiments with ants, from which it results that, having regard to the difference in size, these little insects walk from seven to fourteen times as rapidly as man. Other experiments indicated a sensitiveness to odors. When brushes were dipped in various substances, the ants invariably took notice of those which had been dipped in lavender, and mostly noticed those which had been dipped in cloves or mint, but were indifferent to brushes which had been dipped in distilled water. Lavender appears to be extremely disagreeable, and even deadly, to them.

Pertinently to a controversy between German and Scandinavian archæologists as to priority in the classification of the pre-historic ages—stone, bronze, and iron—Professor Virchow contends that two Germans, Lish and Danneil, discovered the three ages simultaneously with the Dane Thomsen. In support of his position, he quotes a memoir by Lish, which was published in 1837, but was in large part printed in 1836, before Thomsen's work appeared, and when it was wholly unknown to him, expounding a similar theory. In 1835, Lish had actually arranged prehistoric objects in the museum in Mecklenburg, according to the three ages. Danneil's share in the discovery does not appear so pronounced.

It is usually believed that bats hibernate at home, in a dormant condition in caves, hollow trees, and other places of retreat. But according to Dr.C.H.Merriman's observations, as he related them in the American Association, the evidence is complete that the hoary bat and the silver-haired bat emigrate. The hoary bat belongs to the Canadian fauna, but in fall and winter occurs at places far to the southward of its breeding-range. The silver-haired bat occurs regularly in spring and fall at a lonely rock about twenty miles off the coast of Maine. No bats breed at this place, and the nearest island is fourteen miles distant.

A remarkable illustration of the power of lightning has been observed at Loiten, Norway, where a fir-tree eighty feet in height was struck, with such effect, that it was cut in two, and the upper part, which was about sixty feet in length, was thrown to a distance of several yards. The surface of the detached part is as smooth as if it had been cut with a saw, while the stump is jagged, charred, and split to the root. The ground around the tree is furrowed in all directions.

M.Walther has made some observations in the Mediterranean Sea of the manner in which chalk is formed by sea-weeds. He particularly studied the Lithiotamnia of the Bay of Naples, which grow at depths of from one hundred to three hundred feet, a class of algæ remarkably poor in organic matter, but rich in mineral constituents, among which carbonate of lime is preponderant. They grow to be about as large as the hand, and then die without suffering change of form by decomposition. Living plants attach themselves to dead ones, and thus extensive deposits are formed. Beds of pure, uncrystallized chalk remain after the gradual disappearance of the organic matter, the vacancies left by which are gradually filled with calcareous substance. Beds of chalk thus formed may, under some conditions, attain great thickness.

M.Pasteur recently reported concerning 1,656 cases which he had treated of persons bitten by rabid animals. Of 1,009 French cases, 3 had died; of 182 Russians, 11,8 of whom had been bitten by wolves, not by dogs; of 20 Roumanians, 1; of 445 from other countries, including 18 from America, none. The total number of deaths was, therefore, fifteen, or less than one in a hundred.

The committee of the British Association on Antarctic research has reported that, in view of the great increase in facilities for prosecuting work of that kind consequent upon the development of steam navigation, it desires to secure a full discussion of plans for the purpose of giving more definiteness to the objects sought to be obtained, and to the best moans of obtaining them.

Sea-trout have been artificially spawned with great success at the South Kensington aquarium, even from fish which had been kept in captivity for three years and had never visited the sea. The different species of the Sahnonidœ living in the tank are found to pair quite readily with one another. Fish in captivity yield their ova much later than they do when in a wild state; but, of every thirty subjected to artificial existence, only one is, on the average, barren.

A committee has been formed in Paris for the organization of a floating exhibition for the purpose of bringing the products of French industries within the view of the people of other countries. The Sarthe, a vessel of 3,900 tons, has been furnished to the enterprise by the Minister of Marine. The exhibition will fill about 1,600 cubic metres of glass cases and counters; and 400 square metres will be given to machinery. The first voyage of the exhibition will be to the coasts of Central and South America.

It was reported recently, in the Royal Society of Tasmania, that a Mr.Vimpany had captured a black snake four feet three inches long, in which one hundred and nine young ones were found. The greatest number said to have been before taken from a single snake was seventy.

M.Lewin has reported to the Berlin Medical Society his observation of an affection that seems to be peculiar to workers in silver. It appears in the form of round or oval bluish spots on the skin, which in extreme cases may be as large as a nickel five-cent piece, generally on the back of the left hand. Workmen in metals who do not use silver are free from it. The manner in which the spots are produced is not clear, for experiments with the direct application of silver in various forms have failed to generate them. The silver probably falls upon some scratch—for the spots are usually developed where there has been a lesion—in a solution, and afterward undergoes some chemical change by the action of the bodily fluids which induces the peculiar color.

Mr.W.H.Preece described, in the British Association, how he had extracted a piece of needle from his daughter's hand by the aid of a suspended magnetized needle. The needle was strongly deflected, and invariably, when the hand was moved about, pointed to one position, which was marked with a spot of ink. The needle was afterward extracted by cutting at this spot.

Pertinently to the question whether man in the palæolithic age was acquainted with the potter's art, M.Martel reports that he found last year in the cave of Nabrigas, in immediate contact with the remains of specimens of the cave-bear, nine fragments of human skulls, and a piece of rough pottery, not turned in a lathe. In connection with this discovery he adduces the fact that, fifty years ago, M.Joly found in this same cave a fragment of a large vessel in contact with the skull of a fossil bear. There is no trace of any disturbance, no other neolithic objects are found, and the skull is in its natural position; therefore he is persuaded that the question should be answered in the affirmative.

Tommasi-Crudelli and Klebs published the account of the discovery of the schizomycete (bacillus malariœ) as the causal agent of malarious fevers, in 1879. Marchiafava and Celli have announced, as the result of their researches on an individual affected with malaria, that within the red-blood globules are constantly found plasmatic bodies endowed with lively amœboid movements, in which the hæmoglobine is transformed into melanine; and in a further memoir they suggest that these plasmatic bodies may be the living organisms that produce malaria. Thus they confirm in substance Tommasi-Crudelli's opinion that a living organism is the cause of malaria, but they regard its form as differing from a schizomycete.

Professor Windle has announced to the British Association, as conclusions from his researches on the subject, that man's original dentition included six incisors in either jaw; that two from each jaw have gradually disappeared; that this loss is due to the contraction of the anterior part of the palate; that this process of contraction will probably go on and result in the loss of two further incisors; and that the conical shape of many of the supernumerary teeth indicates a reversion to the primitive type of tooth.

The operation of compulsory vaccination was suspended in Zürich, Switzerland, in obedience to popular clamor, in 1883. The deaths from small-pox per 1,000 total deaths for the two previous years and that year had been, in 1881, 7; in 1882, 0; in 1883, 8. They rose, after compulsion had ceased to be used, in 1884, to 11.15; in 1885, to 52, and in the first eight months of 1886, to 85, per 1,000.

Mr.James W.Wells relates that while exploring the stream connections between the head-waters of the Brazilian Rios Tocantins and San Francisco, in 1875, the natives, unaccustomed to the sight of white men, attached a mystery to the presence and personality of one who was neither a trader, planter, priest, nor soldier. They finally decided that he was anti-Christ entering the country with the object of making slaves of the people and heathenizing them; and they were afterward discovered most fervently offering up prayers for deliverance from the machinations of the evil-one,

A very severe earthquake occurred in Greece, the Ionian Islands, and other lands of the Mediterranean Sea, on the 29th of August. In the southwestern Peloponnesus, four considerable towns and a large number of prosperous villages, with about sixty thousand houses, were destroyed, and hundreds of persons were killed. An eruption of Vesuvius was reported at about the same time. The close approach to coincidence in time—making allowance for the distance—of this earthquake with that at Charleston is noticeable; but it is not supposed that a coincidence exists in any other respect.

Artesian wells are of great antiquity in China. Abbé Hue describes the method in which they were bored. It is by tubulation, and drilling with a rammer regulated by a rattan cord—a rude suggestion of the more perfect apparatus which is now used among us.