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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 54/February 1899/Fragments of Science

Fragments of Science.

Early Submarine Telegraphy.—The actual date of the beginning of subaqueous telegraphy was admitted by Professor Ayrtoun, in a lecture delivered before the Imperial Institute in 1897, to be uncertain. Baron Schilling is said to have exploded mines under the Neva by means of the electric current as early as 1812; and this method was used by Colonel Pasley to blow up the wreck of the Royal George at Spithead in 1838; but our Morse has the credit of having first used a wire insulated with India rubber under water. In 1 337, Wheatstone and Cooke were experimenting with land telegraphy, and were considering the possibility of laying an insulated wire under water. Morse's successful experiments date from 1842, when he personally laid a cable between Castle Garden and Governor's Island and sent messages over it; the next morning it was broken. With the introduction of gutta percha as an insulator in 1847, submarine telegraphy became practicable. The Central Oceanic Telegraph Company had been registered by Jacob Brett in 1845, and a cable was laid under the English Channel by Brett and his brother in 1850. Messages were sent through it, but, like Morse's earlier effort, it immediately became silent. Better success attended the cable of the next year, which was sheathed with iron; and the first public submarine message was sent over it November 13, 1851 Morse wrote of the possibility of establishing electro-magnetic communication across the ocean as early as 1844. A syndicate was formed for this purpose in 1855, Cyrus W. Field being the most conspicuous figure in it. An understanding was reached with the Brett company, and the Atlantic Telegraph Company was formed. The first effort to lay the cable was made in 1857 by the United States frigate Niagara and H. M. S. Agamemnon, but the vires broke in deep water when about a third of the work was done. A cable was successfully laid the next year, but it died out in a month. Finally, electric communication was permanently established across the Atlantic by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, which, capturing a cable that had been lost, soon had two. Transatlantic cables have now become so numerous and so regular in their working that the danger of even a temporary failure has become very remote.

 

The White Lady Mountain.—Iztaccihuatl (pronounced Is-tak-see-watl) is about ten miles, measuring to its principal peak, north of Popocatepetl. In shape it consists of a long, narrow ridge cut into three well-defined peaks about equally distant from one another, of which the central is the highest; and the snow-covered peak resembles the figure of a woman lying on her back; whence the name of the mountain, which means white woman. According to the Aztecs, Dr. C. Farrington, of the Field Columbian Museum, tells us, this woman was a goddess who for some crime had been struck dead and doomed to lie forever on this spot. Popocatepetl was her lover, and had stood by her. Tastes differ as to whether it or Popocatepetl presents a more striking view, but either is a beautiful enough object to look upon. The first authenticated record of an ascent to the summit of the mountain is that of Mr. H. Reniere Whitehouse, who reached the top November 9, 1889, and found there undoubted evidence that an ascent had been made five days previously by Mr. James de Salis. Prof. Angelo Heilprin and Mr. F. C. Baker attempted an ascent in the following April, but were turned back when about seventy-five yards below the summit, at a height of 16,730 feet, by two impassable crevasses. "The ascent of Iztaccihuatl seems, therefore, pretty generally to have foiled those who have attempted it. Dr. Farrington, who ascended to the Porfirio Diaz Glacier in February, 1896, describes the route as steeper than that which leads up to Popocatepetl." The brilliant and varied flora, picturesque barrenness, and beautiful cascades lend everywhere a charm to the scene which contrasts favorably with the somber monotony which characterizes the route by which Popocatepetl is ascended. The slopes of the mountain are cultivated to a considerable height—10,860 feet. The lower slopes are largely covered with soil, and the andesite rock, of gray and red colors, differs completely in character from that of Popocatepetl. The aiguillelike character of many of the spurs extending at right angles to the course of the mountain is a prominent feature. Many caves in the rock furnish shelter to cattle and persons attempting the ascent. Dr. Farrington examined the Porfirio Diaz Glacier, and concluded that it formerly had a much greater extent than now.

 

The Adulteration of Butter with Glucose.—The following is from an article by C. A. Crampton in the Journal of the American Chemical Society: In domestic practice the addition of sugar to butter for purposes of preservation is doubtless almost as old as the art of butter-making itself; salt, however, is the usually preferred preservative. Sugar appears in several of the various United States patents for so-called "improving" or renovating processes for butter, being added to it along with salt, saltpeter, and in some cases sodium carbonate. Within the past few years glucose has been used in butter specially prepared for export to tropical countries, as the West Indies or South America. It is usually put up in tins, and various means are resorted to for preventing the decomposition of their goods before they reach the consumer. Very large quantities of salt are used by the French exporters, as the following two analyses show:

Butter for Export.
To Brazil. To Antilles.
Water 10.29 10.19
Curd 1.24 1.81
Ash 10.29 10.06
Fat 78.18 78.44
100.00 100.00

Chemical antiseptics, borax, salicylic acid, etc., are sometimes used, but the method found most efficacious by exporters in this country seems to be the use of glucose in conjunction with moderately heavy salting. The glucose used is a heavy, low-converted sirup, known as confectioners' glucose. The detection of glucose in butter presents no difficulty. The butter is thoroughly washed with hot water, which will readily take up whatever glucose is present. This solution is then tested by means of Fehling's solution. The following is an analysis of the so-called beurre rouge, or red butter, which is exported to Guadeloupe. It is a peculiar highly colored compound, containing large quantities of salt and glucose:

Water 21.60
Curd 0.81
Ash 16.42
Fat 51.15
Glucose 10.02
100.00
 

Decorated Skulls and the Power ascribed to them.—A collection of sixteen skulls—eight of men, seven of women, and one of a child—from New Guinea, is described by George A. Dorsey in the publications of the Field Columbian Museum, Chicago. They were received from a native chief, who used them for the adornment of his house, and is said to have prized them as trophies of war. They are decorated in the frontal region by engraved designs, and the parts are attached to one another by very skillfully adjusted cords. The ornamentation and the bindings are the subject of a special comment by William H. Holmes. Importance is attached by natives of New Guinea to the preservation of the skulls of friends as mementoes and of foes as trophies, and of both categories on account of the virtue—the best qualities of the individuals whose skulls they are—which they are supposed to impart in some mysterious way to their possessor. Hence special care is taken to have them preserved in detail, and that no part be lost. In the present specimens the jaws were secured by fastenings at right and left and in front. The teeth were carefully tied in, and when lost were replaced by artificial teeth. A cord was fastened around the back molar on one side, and carried along, inclosing each tooth in turn, in a loop, so as to make a very effective fastening when the cord was tightly drawn and attached to the back molar on the other side. The lower jaw was very firmly fastened to the skull by closely wrapped cords tightened by binding the strands around the middle portion. In some cases these fastenings are very elaborate and neat; in others, imperfect and slovenly. All the skulls in the collection are decorated with designs engraved on the frontal bone, and in some cases the figures run back. The execution of the work is not of a very high order, but is rather irregular and scratchy. Nearly all embody easily distinguished animal forms, and the more formal or nearly geometric ones are probably animal derivatives or representations of land, water, or natural phonomena. They are possibly totemic or mythological.

 

Galax and its Affinities.—One of the most interesting plants of the Southern mountain region is the galax (Galax aphylla), which grows in the highlands more or less abundantly from Virginia southward. The slopes of Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina, are carpeted with it for many square miles of almost uninterrupted extent. Besides being an attractive plant at home, its thick, leathery, rounded cordate leaves, deep green or crimson or mixed, according to the season, make it much in demand for decoration, and tons of it in the aggregate are shipped, from places where it grows abundantly, for that purpose. Its affiliations with certain other Alpine and arctic plants are described in a carefully studied paper on the Order Diapensisceæ, published by Margaret Farsman Boynton in the Journal of the National Science Club, Washington. Liunasus found in Lapland a creeping evergreen herb, matting the surface with its stiff, spatulate leaves, and described it in 1737 as Diapensia lapponica. Then galax was discovered by Gronovius and given a place by Linnæus—because of its stamens rather than of its natural affinities—along with Diapensia. Michaux, in the last decade of the eighteenth century, found Pyxidanthera barbulata, resembling diapensia, in the pine barrens of New Jersey and North Carolina. More recently other species of diapensia and Berneuxia have been found among the Himalayas, and Schizocodon of several species in Japan. One of the most remarkable discoveries in the list was that by Michaux in the mountains of North Carolina of a plant which was afterward called Shortia galacifolia, from the resemblance of its leaves to those of galax. This plant in a living state was then lost, and when Gray and Torrey looked for it in 1831 in vain, only one preserved specimen of it was known to be extant and that in fruit; and it was not till 1877 that it was collected, rediscovered, in fact, in flower, as Gray has said, "by an herbalist almost absolutely ignorant of botany, who was only informed of his good fortune on sending to a botanist one of the two specimens collected by him." The Shortia, so far as is known, grows only in a very narrow district, and those who know the place are careful not to direct the public to it. Specimens have been collected by a few nurserymen, who cultivate it and have it for sale. The plants of this list are variously classified as among one another by botanists, but are regarded as belonging to a common group. "The real story of their development," says the author of the paper, "can be gathered only in hints from their present distribution, for unfortunately they have neither gallery of ancestral portraits nor recorded geological tree." But their ancestors are supposed to have been pushed down by the glaciers and left where the modern forms are found. Almost anywhere in the boreal flora Diapensia lapponica may be found, whether in northern Asia, or Europe, or America, or even on the mountains of Labrador and in the Pyrenees, the Scotch mountains, and our own White Mountains.

 

The Academy della Crusca.—"For three hundred years," says a correspondent of the London Athenæum, "the learned body, the Academy of la Crusca (the bran), Florence, has been scrupulously sifting the Italian tongue and producing successive editions of its monumental dictionary. Its present seat i?i in the monastery of St. Mark—Savonarola's cloister—where it occupies the hall behind the great library. When an associate is promoted to full membership, his official reception is still accompanied by the traditional rite. First, he is solemnly conducted to the Cruscan museum, and left to solitary meditation among shovel-backed chairs surmounted by the symbolical sieve and bookcases ingeniously fashioned in the likeness of corn sacks. The walls are covered with the names, crests, and mottoes of former members, who in past times usually assumed fantastic titles descriptive of the academy's labors." Some of these printed inscriptions and comical devices are more or less quaint. Thus, Dr. Giulio Maxi in 1590 took the name of Il Fiorito, or the flowery one, with the device of a basket of wheat in bloom and the motto from Petrarch (translation):

"I enjoy the present and hope for better."

In 1641 the Senator Vieri appeared as Le Svanito, the evaporated, with an uncorked wine flask, the stopper beside it, and the motto:

"Oh, how I long for the medicine!"

In 1660 the Marquis Malaskini adopted the title of Il Preservato, the preserved, the device of olives packed in straw, and the motto from Petrarch:

"Keep the prize green."

In 1764, the Abbot Giuseppe Pelli, surnamed Il Megliorato, the improved, took the device of a newly invented sieve for the better sifting of grain, with the Petrarchian motto:

"Follow the few, and not the throng."

In 1770, Signor Domenico Manni assumed the title of Il Sofferente, the sufferer, with a straw chair as his device, and a motto from Dante:

"The master said that lying in a feather bed One would not come to fame—nor under the plowshare."

In due time the new member is escorted to the hall where the academy is assembled, and the chief consul, head of the academy, greets him with a speech, to which he has to make a fitting reply. Historical Italian families are numerously represented on the academy's rolls, and among the foreign members are the names of William Roscoe and Mr. Gladstone.

 

Aboriginal Superstitions about Bones.—A very interesting archæological site in Mexico, visited by Carl Lumholtz and Aleš Hedlička in the fall of 1896, is near Zacápu, in the State of Michoacan. The region is marked by many stone mounds on or near the edge of the old flow of lava, extending for several miles; and directly above the village stands a large stone fortress, called El Palacio. Excavating near this fortress, Mr. Lumholtz unearthed several skeletons, which had been buried without any order, and accompanied by "remarkably few objects," but some of these were well worthy of study. The most curious things found were some bones, strangely marked with grooves across them, exhibiting a little variety in arrangement, but all similarly executed, and evidently after a carefully devised system. This feature is so far unique in archæology, and its purpose can as yet be only a matter of conjecture. Two ways are proposed by the author of explaining it. The marking may have been an operation undertaken for the purpose of dispatching the dead. Mr. Lumholtz is knowing to a belief among the tribes of Mexico that the dead are troublesome to the survivors for at least one year, and certain ceremonies and feasts in regard to them have to be observed in order to prevent them from doing harm, and to drive them away. The Tarahumares guard their beer against them, and others provide a special altar with food for the dead on it at their rain-making feasts, else the spirits would work some mischief. Among many tribes an offering is made to the dead, before drinking brandy, of a few drops of the liquor. A relation is also supposed to exist between disease and pain and the bones of the deceased person. A whole class of diseases are supposed to have their seat in the bones or the marrow of them. If the disease does not yield to the shaman's efforts, and causes death, the Indians think that the pain will continue after death and vex the ghost, making him malignant and troublesome. Therefore the pain must be conquered, and driven away from the bones and the marrow. Hence the markings may have been made in order to sever all connection between the spirit and his former life, and from the disease that caused his death. The other explanation is that the bones were taken from slain enemies for other purposes than as mere trophies. Personal or bodily relics are supposed to possess some of the qualities of the deceased, and to give power. This view is supported by some observations of Mr. Cushing relative to Zuñi customs; and the author is inclined to favor it rather than the other.

 

Estrays from Civilization.—A curious study of a community of estrays from civilization who are leading the life of savages is published by M. Zaborowski in the Revue de l' École d' Anthropologie and La Nature. The settlement is about a mile from Ezy, on the eastern edge of the plateau of Normandy, in a group of caves that were excavated and used as wine cellars when, several hundred years ago, wine culture flourished in the now uncongenial region. Later the srot was a resort for picnics till the old buildings fell into decay, and about fifty years ago it was given up to wanderers. About eighty men, women, and children live there, the adults, though not perhaps really criminals, having been lost to society on account of some offense committed against it. They have no regular means of subsistence, are beneath the tramps in grade, and possess, with one or two exceptions, no articles of property other than what they pick up. Their beds are wooden bunks set upon stones, filled with leaves, and the coverings are wrapping canvas. A "family" of seven persons lived in one of the cellars with only a single bed of this kind. Their kitchen utensils are old tin cans picked out of rubbish heaps, and their stoves are obtained in the same way, or often consist of plates and pieces of iron adjusted so as to make a sort of fireplace. They have a well from which they draw water with some old kettle suspended on a hooked stick, each "family" having its own hook. Their clothes are rags, partly covering portions of the body, and it is not considered necessary that the younger ones should have even these. Their housekeeping and their ideas of neatness are such as might correspond with these conditions. One woman, mother of four children, and the only one that was adequately dressed, was a native of a neighboring village, and had been brought to the cave by her mother when she was eight years old. An old man had been a charge upon the town and was sent to the cave by the maire to get rid of him. He had found a woman there and had several children. A woman, still active, who had lived in the caves three years, had children living in Ezy. The complaint, so common in other parts of France, that the natural increase of population has failed, does not apply to the caves. Five or six of the "families" have four or five children. On these children, of whom only the most vigorous survive, "the influence of their debasing misery and of the vices of their parents impresses a common aspect. Their mental condition has fallen shockingly low, and, their physical needs satisfied, they seem to want nothing further. No attraction will induce them to attend school, which is like imprisonment to them. Their mode of life and the marks of degradation in their faces separate them from others. Earnest attempts to develop their intelligence and moral consciousness have been without result."

 

German School Journeys.—It is very common in Germany, says Miss Dodd, of Owens College, in one of the English educational reports, to find definite teaching taking place outside the school walls—in the gardens attached to the schools, and in the neighboring forests, where the children are instructed in observation of the local forms of plant and animal life. Further, they are often taken on longer expeditions to spend the whole day in the forest or on the mountain with their teachers, who direct them "what to see, and how to see it." More definite and more ambitious than these minor excursions is the school journey, which may last from three days to three weeks. It is usually taken on foot, and is as inexpensive as possible, with plain food and simple accommodation. Each boy carries his own knapsack charged with a change of underclothing, towels, soap, etc., and overcoat or umbrella; while for the common use of the party are distributed clothes brushes and shoe brushes, needles, thread, string, and pins, ointment for rubbing on the feet, a small medicine chest, a compass, a field glass, a pocket microscope, a barometer, and a tape measure. The district visited is chosen on account of its historical associations or the geographical illustrations it furnishes, or the richness and variety of plant life to be studied. Constant pauses are made to afford opportunities for the examination of features inviting study; and the scenes visited are often closely connected with the subjects included in the year's work of the school. In a journey, of which Miss Dodd was a member, preparations were begun three months beforehand, with the collection of subscriptions, drawing of road maps, and special lessons. The fifty boys from ten to fifteen years old, marched off in groups of four, assorting themselves according to their affinities for companionship, with advance and rear guards; the regions passed through were explored for what might be found in them; the roads were marked and identified, mountains and rivers were named, and the courses of streams determined; and at each place of considerable interest its characteristic features and associations of Nature, art, and history were discussed and studied.

 

The Huichol Indians of Jalisco.—The Huichol Indians of Mexico, the subject of a study by Carl Lumholtz, four thousand people living in the mountains of northern Jalisco, have a tradition that they originated in the south, got lost underneath the earth, and came forward again in the east, in the country of the Kikuli, near San Luis Potosi. Franciscan missionaries converted them nominally to Christianity, but there are now no priests in their country, and there is probably no tribe in Mexico where the ancient beliefs have been so well maintained as with them. Their exterior conditions have been somewhat altered by the introduction of cattle and sheep, and cattle are now the favorite animals for sacrifice at the feasts for making rain during the dry season. The people are healthy, very emotional, easily moved to laughter or tears, imaginative and excitable. Young people show affection in public, kissing or caressing one another. They are kindhearted and not inhospitable to those who can gain their confidence, but have the reputation of being wanting in regard for truth. They live mostly in circular houses made from loose stones, or stones and mud, and covered with thatched roofs. Their temples, devoted to various gods, are of similar shape, but much larger, with the entrances toward sunrise. Outside of the door is an open space surrounded by small rectangular godhouses, with gabled and thatched roofs. The god-houses are also frequently found in the forests, and are sometimes circular. There are nineteen temples in the country which are frequented at the times of the feasts, when the officials and their families camp in the small god-houses. Idols are not kept in the temples, but are hidden in caves or in special buildings. There are a great many sacred caves devoted to various gods, and generally containing some pool or spring that gives them sanctity, and the water of which is supposed to have salutary virtues. Much religious importance is attached to the Kikuli cactus, which produces an exhilarating effect on the system. Ceremonial arrows are inseparably connected with their life, the arrow representing the Indian himself in his prayers to the gods. They have other interesting ceremonies and ceremonial objects, and a curious system of distilling, which Mr. Lumholtz describes at length.

 

Herrings at Dinner.—The food of the herring consists of small organisms, often of microscopic dimensions. It is entirely animal, and in Europe, according to those who have investigated the matter, it consists of copepods, schizopods (shrimp-like forms), amphipods (sand fleas and their allies), the embryos of gasteropods and lamellibranchia, and young fishes, often of its own kind. In the examination of about fifteen hundred specimens of herring at Eastport, Maine, and vicinity, in the summer and fall of 1893, Mr. H. F. Moore, of the Fish Commission, found only two kinds of food—copepods or "red seed," which appeared to constitute the sole food of the small herrings, and shrimps the principal food of the larger ones. In many cases the stomachs of the fish were densely gorged with these shrimps, which are extremely abundant in the waters of the vicinity. Excepting the eyes and phosphorescent spots beneath, which are bright red, the bodies of the crustaceans are almost transparent, yet such is the density of the schools in which they congregate that a distinctly reddish tinge is often imparted to the water. They are very active, and frequently avoid the rush of the fish by vigorous strokes of their powerful caudal paddles, which throw them several inches above the surface. To capture them requires some address on the part of the herring, and the fish likewise frequently throw themselves almost clear of the surface. When feeding upon copepods the movements of the herrings are less impetuous. They swim open-mouthed, often with their snouts at the surface, crossing and recrossing on their tracks, and evidently straining out the minute crustaceans by means of their branchial sieves. After they have passed the stage known as "brit," the herrings appear to feed principally at night, or if they do so to any considerable extent during bright daylight it is at such a depth that they escape observation. At night it is often possible to note the movements of the fish at a depth of several fathoms, and at such times Mr. Moore has seen them swimming back and forth, "apparently screening the water, their every movement traced by a phosphorescent gleam, evoked perhaps from the very organisms which they were consuming." The herrings evidently follow their prey by night, and the fact that the shrimps possess phosphorescent spots may explain the apparent ability of the fish to catch them then.