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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 37/June 1890/Popular Miscellany

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 37‎ | June 1890


Evolution of the Fish-Hook.—"The Evolution of the Fishing-Hook" has been made the subject of a study by Mr. Edward Lovett, who discerns the first implement of the kind in the flint "gorges," and some of the flints, which are called "knives," of the paleolithic "finds." They were fastened, perhaps, to a line of twisted vegetable fiber, or to a thong of one of the whip-like marine algae, by being suspended around the middle. When baited, the "hook" would stand up and down. Swallowed by the fish and jerked up, it would be brought at right angles to the line and stand across the throat of the fish, so as to bring it along. Another form was a bow, sharpened at both ends and tied around the middle; or a disk of haliotis shell, which is still used, in connection with a hook, as a trolling bait for jack or pike. Some very early hooks appear to have been provided with some kind of a barb. Of the bone hooks of the Eskimos, one is mentioned that was carved to resemble a fish; another had an iron nail for a point; and another example had the shaft of bone, the point of iron, and a polished stone sinker, showing a combination of the Stone, Bone, and Iron ages in one specimen. The Fijians use a barbless hook of mother-of-pearl for trailing over the stern of a canoe, the glitter of which attracts the fish. Some hooks from the Ellis Islands are made of the iron wire in which European packing-cases are bound, which is bent into a curve, the end sharpened to a point, and turned inward and downward, and is lashed in such a way that the strain on the hook has a tendency to keep the curve in proper adjustment. One hook is made of a forked limb. In Europe, not many hooks are found anterior to the Iron age. Among the bronze hooks from the lake-dwellings of Switzerland is one very closely resembling the hooks of our own time. An extraordinary specimen is formed of the upper mandible of an eagle, notched down to the base. Hooks in the British Islands have undergone but little change, except in finish and quality, since the dawn of the Iron period. Looking upon the subject as a whole, we find a gradual development from the rudest form of stone, through shell, wood, bone, copper, and iron, down to the beautifully tempered fine steel salmon-hook of the present day; and we also have examples in which these stages of progression overlap one another, as shown by hooks of compound manufacture, like those of shell and bone, wood and bone, bone and iron, and even stone, bone, and iron together.


Cloud-bursts.—Many recent disastrous floods have owed their severity to a sudden down-pour of water occurring when the streams of the surrounding country were already filled by rain which had fallen previously. Such a down-pour is called a cloudburst. As explained by Prof. Ferrel, in his book on The Winds, great quantities of rain and hail sometimes collect at a considerable height in the vortex of a tornado, being held up by the strong upward current of air.* When the weight of the accumulated mass has become great enough to overcome the force of the ascending current, the rain or hail pours down at one or more points. The whole system may also become weak and break up from some other cause, when the same result follows. Thus, if a tornado heavily charged with rain, in moving over the country, strikes a mountainside, its whirling motion is checked and the upward current weakened, when a cloudburst results. This is why cloud-bursts occur oftenest on mountain-sides. It is not to be supposed that the accumulation of water would be evenly distributed over all parts of the ascending current, but it would collect at several points; hence, when it becomes able to force its way down, it descends not in drops, but in streams which often make great holes in the ground. On a steep mountain-side, if the stream continues for a short time only, it may give rise to a landslide, or may wash out a great ravine, through which the water rushes down to the valley below, carrying rocks and trees along with it.


Treatment of Lightning-Shock.—A report of a curious case of lightning-shock, with recovery, has been published by Dr. J. B. Paige, of Montreal, with remarks by Drs. Frank Buller and T. Wesley Mills. The subject, a young married woman, was struck by a flash, the intensity of which was shown by its effects on metallic objects to be very great. It passed from a bird-cage, hanging near her, to her head above the left eye, thence along the ear to the central line of the thorax, along the stocking suspender to the top of the stocking, leaving marks on both legs. Thence no trace of the current was detected till the foot was reached, whence it passed, leaving large rents in the stocking and slipper, but no marks on the skin. The force of the shock was enough to throw the woman from the chair on which she was sitting, upon and across another some two or three feet distant. She was found completely unconscious, motionless, with muscles relaxed, left eye closed, right one open, face purple, pulse imperceptible, and neither heart-sounds nor respiratory murmur audible. Her clothes were loosened and artificial respiration was begun, and the first sign of life appeared about three minutes afterward. Breathing was greatly impeded, when respiration was first resumed, by accumulations of saliva, which were removed. Consciousness began to return and the muscles of the arm to regain strength in between half and three quarters of an hour. Sight was restored to the right eye, but it could not be moved. Though the subject could not speak, the paralysis passed away slowly, so that in about two weeks solid food could be swallowed. Twelve or fourteen hours after the accident, intense pain set in about the head, neck, arms, and chest, which did not pass away from the head for seven days, and occurred occasionally after that. At the end of four weeks the patient was able to return to her home. In six months complete recovery had taken place, except in the left eye. To the question whether the patient could have recovered without the assistance rendered just after the accident, Prof. Mills replies that "considering that respiration was suspended, that the circulation, even with artificial respiration, was so feeble that the temperature fell, that consciousness did not return for so long, it does not seem reasonable to believe in the possibility of spontaneous recovery. But the case does seem to teach, in the clearest way, the importance of using such means as those employed in this instance promptly and perseveringly."


Natural Guides to Land Values.—The chief of the Agricultural College at Downton, England, has given in a recently published article some of the indications by which the fertility of soils may be judged. The following colors indicate barrenness in soils: 1. Black, as being in most cases caused by an excess of vegetable matter or peat. 2. White, as indicating a thin, chalky soil, or the presence of white sand close to the surface. 3. Yellow, whether dark or light. 4. Light gray. 5. Blue. 6. A piebald or variegated color. A good soil ought to be from twelve to eighteen inches deep. Alluvial soils owe their fertility in a great measure to their depth. Tenacity does much to determine the productive power of soil. Tenacity is seen in the clearly cut furrow, and the impression left by the foot when the soil is moist. In tenacious soil the footprint is clear and sharp at the edges, and every nail-mark shows; whereas, in loamy soil the tread is indistinct and the edges of the footprint crumble away. In dry weather, a cracked surface and hard yellow clods are the marks of a stiff soil. The skillful judge of land will not rely too much upon the physical character of the soil alone. Land always covers itself with herbage of some sort, from the quality and quantity of which the best possible indication of the soil's yielding power may be obtained. Plenty of timber is a favorable augury. Who can not recall some beautiful valley where the well-grown trees seem almost to meet their branches over green meadows and patches of grain and other crops? On the other hand, inclement and thin soils carry a stunted and forlorn timbering. Turning to the sort of tree, we may mention large, spreading oaks as signs of good land. The elm is found to perfection on village greens and near to homesteads where the ground has become, or always was, rich, and in other favored situations. The mulberry and the walnut, the apple and the quince, are never found vigorous on other than good land; and the ash, the sycamore, and the chestnut are also indications of fertility. Certain other trees indicate the reverse. We see plantations of larch on barren uplands and soils difficult to put to other uses. Scotch fir, spruce, yew, and other cone-bearing trees are often found on poor land. Beeches thrive on the thinnest of limestone, and the birch will grow in the most unpromising places. Coming down to the plants, none is a more unfailing guide to fertility than chick weed. Nettles never grow on bad land, and dandelions and buttercups are not seen on poor pastures. Thistles also show a good soil. The state of growing crops and the appearance of stubbles should also be noted, although such indications may show rather the character of the farming. Certain wild grasses show barrenness, while grass-land which seems covered with dead, unkempt stuff, like badly made hay, is always barren.

Gardening Classes of the Missouri Botanical Garden.—The Trustees of the Missouri Botanical Garden, carrying on the intentions of Mr. Shaw, its founder, have prepared a plan of garden scholarships, providing for the instruction of a limited number of pupils in practical horticulture. The classes are intended to consist of six pupils, who will be taught for not more than six years each. They will be regarded as apprentices in the Botanical Garden, and required to work in it under the direction of the head gardener, performing the duties of garden hands, and being advanced gradually from simpler to more responsible tasks. After the first year their working hours will be reduced to five a day, that they may devote the rest of the time to study, in which they will enjoy free the privileges of the tuition of the School of Botany at Washington University. For their services in the garden they will be paid from two hundred to three hundred dollars a year, with conveniently situated lodgings. Applicants for scholarships will be examined in the upper grammar-school branches; and, in case of an excess of them, will be subjected to competitive examination, in which other branches will be brought in. The studies will be, for the first year, in practical duties; for the second year, vegetable and flower gardening, smallfruit culture, and orchard culture; for the third year, readings in forestry, elementary botany, landscape gardening, and the rudiments of surveying and draining; for the fourth year, botany of weeds, garden vegetables, and fruits; for the fifth year, vegetable physiology, economic entomology, and fungi; for the sixth year, botany of garden and greenhouse plants, ferns, and trees in their winter condition, with the theoretical part of some branch of special gardening. Pupils will also be trained in legal forms and in keeping accounts. Two of the six scholarships are at the disposal of local horticultural societies, provided their candidates pass the examinations.


Museum of the University of Pennsylvania.—The Archæological Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, begun in December, 1889, by the purchase of a small collection of stone implements, has grown in the few months since, till it includes ten thousand objects from all the United States, Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America. It is intended to make it representative of the early civilization of the Americas, and to exhibit as far as possible the implements used by the Indians, in their warfare, agriculture, and domestic life, before the advent of Columbus. It is intended hereafter to build up the collection mainly by explorations, and to this end all parts of the country will be thoroughly searched. In addition to the American specimens, the museum contains a fine collection of flints, bronze implements, and pottery from Europe, and objects from Asia, Africa, and the South Sea islands. Preparations are making by Prof. Rothrock for the establishment in the university of a Museum of Economic Botany, to consist of all kinds of woods, vegetable fibers, grains, and drugs, arranged so as to illustrate the processes of manufacture from the raw product, and the various uses to which each material may be put. It is expected to make this department of practical use to manufacturers and wood-workers, who may be guided by its aid to the selection of suitable material, and learn where it can be got.


Coffin-Nails.—Baring-Gould has contributed to The Gentleman's Magazine an article full of curious lore on this sepulchral subject. He says that the studding of a coffin with nails—which has evidently not ceased to be common in England—is a curious survival. The nails are no longer of any use, for the lid is fastened down with screws, but even when stone coffins were used—sarcophagi—the nails were not omitted. Iron was from the first regarded with superstitious reverence. In Egypt iron was the symbol of victory over death—of the power of resurrection given to man. The Romans also had a reverence for iron, and attributed to it mysterious powers. By drawing a circle on the ground or in the air, with an iron point, thrice round a person, they believed all noxious influences were banished. An iron spike applied lightly to a wounded part would relieve its pain. Rust for curative and protective purposes might be had from old nails, from which it must be removed with moistened iron. The nail was specially used because it was a symbol of fate. On the Ides of September every year the highest in authority in Rome drove a nail into the wall of the Temple of Jupiter. That day was the beginning of the Roman year, and the driving of the nail was thought to bring with it prosperity fur the new year. Livy tells us i, it when the gods seemed hostile and unmoved by the distresses of the nation, the dictator broke the spell of evil by driving in a nail. Once a nail driven in had banished a plague; then a nail had healed discord, Pliny says that, if a nail be driven into the pillow on which a man suffering from epilepsy has laid his head, it will heal him. In all these notices we see iron used as destroying the power of evil, breaking the force of disaster, banishing disease, expelling death. Consequently, nails were put in urns or funereal cists to keep away from them every evil power, demons, witches, and as a pledge of final restoration. The iron horseshoe nailed to a door owes its power to break the force of witchcraft not only to its being a symbol of Odin's horse, but also to the metal of which it is composed. Shears were frequently buried with bodies down till late in the middle ages. It is said that even within the memory of man they have been buried in coffins with corpses in Swabia. Sometimes as many as five were laid in the coffin with one corpse. The idea was the same as with nails—the metal was the important matter, rather than the form it took. The steel or iron was a preservative to the corpse, a protection and an assurance of resurrection. For the same reason that nails and shears were buried with the dead, swords were laid with them, and not necessarily because they would need them in the next world. Even Charlemagne was buried with his sword. The Icelandic sagas are full of stories of cairns broken into by heroes to rob the dead of their swords. Already in historic times the significance of the sword buried with the dead was lost; and in the Saga of Olaf the Saint a ghost actually invites a Norseman to break into his tomb and relieve him of his sword and other valuables.


Habits of the Manatee.—The London Zoölogical Society has acquired a living specimen of the manatee, one of the only two kinds of "herbivorous cetaceans" now existing. Concerning the habits of these animals, Miss Agnes Crane has written, from observations of a pair several years ago in the Brighton Aquarium, that lettuce and endives, of which they could eat thirty pounds a day, formed their favorite food. The male would devour at a pinch leaves of the cabbage, turnip, and carrot. Both relished those of the dandelion and sow-thistle. Sometimes the animals would swim about and pursue the leaves floating on the water; at other times the plants were seized in their mouths, drawn down, and eaten under the water, while the hand-like fore-fins were employed in separating the leaves. The food was invariably swallowed below the surface. They are not at all at ease when out of the water, but seem oppressed by their bulk. The male was observed to make a few attempts at terrestrial progress by turning himself round and moving a few inches when the tank was empty. With jaws and tailfin pressed closely to the ground, the body of the animal became arched, and was moved by a violent lateral effort, aided and slightly supported by the fore paddles, which were stretched out in a line with the mouth. But the effect of these very labored efforts was not commensurate with their violence; and their relation to active locomotion might be compared to the state of a man lying prone, with fettered feet and elbows tied to his side.


Odd Dishes of the Olden Time.—The cook-books of a hundred or more years ago afford reading well adapted to excite curiosity of appetite, if we may speak in that way. Their lists of pickles and flavors embraced a great many articles that we do not think now of using in that way. Jams were made of vegetables; parsnips, raspberries, etc., were made into cakes; and beets, potatoes, and oranges into biscuits. For making violet cakes the directions were to "take the finest violets you can get, pick off the leaves, beat the violets fine in a mortar with the juice of a lemon, beat and sift twice their weight of double-refined sugar, put your sugar and violets into a silver saucepan or tankard, set it over a slow fire, keep stirring it gently until all your sugar is dissolved; if you let it boil it will discolor your violets; drop them in china plates; when you take them off put them in a box, with paper between every layer." Wines were made of every fruit; of such flowers and vegetables as cowslips and parsnips; from flowers and berries of elder; from sycamore, walnut, blackberry, and balm. To make shrub, to one gallon of milk flavored with lemons and Seville oranges were added two quarts of red wine, two gallons of rum, and one gallon of brandy. The books give directions how to spin gold and silver webs for dessert, to spin birds' nests, to make a Chinese temple or obelisk, a fish-pond with silver and gold fishes, a hen's nest with strips of lemon for straw, and eggs filled with flummery, and a hen and chickens in jelly. To make a "desert island," "take a lump of paste and form it into a rock three inches broad at the top, set in the middle of a deep china dish, and set a cast figure on it with a crown on its head and a knot of sugar-candy at its feet, etc. . . . If this dish is for a wedding supper, put two figures instead of one." There are also recipes for a "rocky island," a "floating island," with sheep and swans, "or you may put in snakes or any wild animals of the same sort," "Solomon's temple in flummery," "moonshine," and "moon and stars in jelly"—a half-moon with seven stars shining out of flummery colored with cochineal and chocolate to imitate the color of the sky. Among solid dishes the books tell how to make porcupine of a breast of veal, to surprise a shoulder of mutton or any other joint, to dress a joint to look like a hen and chickens, to bombard veal, to transmogrify pigeons, to Florentine a hare, make a Solomon Gundy, make an artificial turtle, and barbecue a pig.


Trees and Malaria.—According to Prof. Corrado Tommassi Crudelli, some of the prevalent notions respecting relations of forests and malaria are mistaken ones. The relations are not direct. Forests do not contribute to the propagation of malaria unless they are growing upon a malarious soil; and they can not make a soil malarious which would not be malarious without them. But they favor the development of malaria, when it is already there, by intercepting the solar rays, and thus checking evaporation and retaining moisture in summer. When the obstacle to the direct action of the solar rays is removed from infected land, the summer drying lessens the malarious generation, and in some favorable circumstances may even arrest it. The idea prevails in Rome that forests act as a screen to prevent malaria from crossing them by causing it to be filtered out in their foliage, and the establishment of forests at certain places is advised for that purpose. But it has been proved that the destruction of woods and forests in such situations has not led to an increase of malaria, but frequently to its mitigation by promoting better drainage and improved cultivation. The production of fevers in the Agro Romano and in Rome is the result of a complexity of meteorological and physiological conditions. An abundant development of malaria is verified only when the malarious soil is damp and warm. The malarious charge of the atmosphere may vary greatly according to the different proportion of the two indispensable factors of malaria—heat and moisture. If both are at their maximum, so is the malaria, especially when the sky is clear. When the malarious charge of the atmosphere has been great for many days in succession, and the bodies of the inhabitants have become more or less impregnated with the malarious germs, a fall of temperature may be very injurious, by causing an arrest of the germs within the organism and preventing their rapid elimination by the secretions. Hence it is that northern winds exercise an unfavorable influence during the fever seasons.


Soda Salts in Arizona.—The deposits of sulphate of soda of the valley of the Verde River, Arizona, have long been known and extensively quarried by the rancheros of the region to obtain a substitute for salt for cattle and horses. They have recently been visited by William P. Blake, who found the deposits of thenardite and allied minerals associated with it to cover several acres in extent, and reach a thickness of fifty or sixty feet or more. They appear as a series of rounded hills, with sides covered with a snow-white efflorescence and a greenish-colored and yellow clay at the bottom and top, partially covering the saline beds. The bulk of the deposits consists of thenardite, in a coarsely crystalline mass, so compact and firm that it has to be got out by drilling and blasting. The white efflorescence on the hills is composed of the hydrous sulphate of soda (mirabilite), which occurs in close association with the thenardite. Other associated minerals are rock-salt in beautifully transparent masses, sparingly disseminated; the anhydrous sulphate of lime and soda (glauberite); and "pseudomorphs," in which the glauberite having disappeared, its place is supplied by amorphous carbonate of lime exactly filling the matrices of its crystals.


Holy Things and Toys from Torres Strait.—Prof. A. C. Haddon has fitted up in the British Museum a collection of objects from Torres Strait, which illustrates the customs and superstitions of the people of that still savage quarter. Among the objects are some forty native skulls, some of which had been strung in bunches as trophy decorations of the hut of a warrior, while others had been used for ceremonies and divination. The great eccentric masks employed in semi-religious and secular dances are represented by specimens which the collector believes to be the last of their kind. One of them, a crocodile mask, had such striking powers that the native from whom it was obtained refused to put it on for fear that death would be the consequence, because it was not the season of the year when it might be legitimately worn. Of the charms, those in stone and wood shaped like dugongs are very interesting. There are charms to protect against poisoning, love-charms, rain-making charms, charms to make the tobacco-plant grow; female figures, some in coral to keep the fire in when the housewife is absent; and taboo figures and signs of various kinds. The musical instruments include some ingenious drums, "bull-roarers," and a new kind of simple construction. Of toys there are tops of considerable weight, of which the Papuan spins several on his toes at the same time, and arrangements of string used as a sort of cat's cradle. The implements and articles of clothing and those for personal adornment are varied. An ornament worn by a betrothed girl appears to be derived from two fish-hooks placed back to back. Several specimens grimly illustrate the old savage customs. A hardwood weapon is marked with eleven notches, to indicate as many heads which the owner has cut off. A double cassowary head-dress that belonged to a late king of the island Tud was handed over by his son to Prof. Haddon, together with the boar-tusks which he wore in his mouth on war expeditions, on the understanding that they were to go to the British Museum, where "plenty men" wanted to see them. When drawings or photographs of some of the natives were being taken they would ask, "Queen Victoria, he see picture along we fellow?"—that is, Will Queen Victoria see our picture?—to which the professor replied in the same strain, "S'pose he want> he see; I no savee. Plenty men along England want to savee about you fellow." Some of these photographs may now be seen in this collection, recording features and decorations which, in a few years, will have died out.