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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 7/June 1875/Geographical Work of 1874


AT the meeting of the American Geographical Society, held February 25, 1875, the annual address was delivered by Chief-Justice Daly, the President of the Society. Beginning with a brief survey of the remarkable physical phenomena of the year, including great falls of rain and snow, extreme and widely-distributed cold, quakes, volcanic disturbances, floods, cyclones, etc., he alluded, in passing, to the geography of the sea-bottom as made known by the recent examinations of the Challenger Expedition, and then took up the geographical work in our own country, as carried on by the United States Engineer Corps, and other explorers. The explorations of Lieutenant Wheeler show that every State and Territory west of the Plains is crowded with the products of volcanic action, ancient and modern, the connected beds of lava in Arizona and New Mexico covering an area of 20,000 square miles; and the conclusions of the geologists of the expedition are, that volcanic disturbances and eruptions in our Western territory will be resumed, and may occur at any day. They have occurred so recently, geologically speaking, that it is extraordinary there is no human record of them. In the Department of the Platte, a new route to the Yellowstone Park has been discovered by Captain Jones's exploring party. The Black Hills country was penetrated by General Custer's military expedition, and explored by Captain Ludlow. Prof. Hayden's geographical survey has confirmed the discovery of 1872, that Colorado is the great centre of elevation in the United States, having fifty peaks that are about 14,000 feet high. In the Pacific Ocean, soundings have been made for ascertaining a practicable route for a telegraph cable between Japan and Puget Sound, and for one from San Francisco to the Hawaiian Islands.

The separate researches and explorations of M. Pinvart and Mr. W. H. Dall, in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, were next reviewed. M. Pinvart is of the opinion that the Esquimaux of this region are of the same stock as those of Greenland and Baffin's Bay, and concludes from their legends and traditions that they came originally from Asia across Behring's Straits. The probability of this conclusion is doubted by Mr, Dall; moreover, many American ethnologists think that Greenland and vicinity were peopled from Europe.

Prof J. W. Putnam, of Salem, Mass., has been engaged in researches respecting the ancient inhabitants of North America. He believes that the southern Indians (the Mound-Builders of Ohio, Indiana, and other parts of the West) were not connected with the northern or eastern tribes, but were of the same stock as the ancient inhabitants of Mexico, though diversified by immigration and by mixing with other races.

In Central and South America specialists have carried on explorations in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and the lower part of South America. A French expedition has been exploring Tierra del Fuego.

The arctic event of the year has been the return of the officers and crew of the Tegethof, of the Austrian expedition, and the important discoveries made by them. This expedition, in the difficulties it encountered, the perseverance displayed, the discipline maintained, and the success achieved, is about as heroic as any thing that has occurred in the history of arctic exploration. The ship was frozen in off the coast of Nova Zembla from August till October, 1872, when the ice broke up, and they found themselves fixed upon an ice-floe helplessly drifting, but, strangely enough, to the northward. Drifting fourteen months in this way, mere passengers on an ice-floe, they were at last driven ashore and frozen in on a coast which they had discovered, but were unable to reach, two months before. This was in 79° 43' north latitude, and 60° 23' east longitude. It was now November, 1873, and they had passed the eightieth parallel. The long polar winter of 175 days set in, and the cold was so severe that the quicksilver remained frozen for weeks, and the darkness in midwinter was intense. The land, to which they gave the name of Franz-Joseph Land, was a most desolate region. In April, 1874, they set out in sledges and reached 81° 57' north latitude, coming upon a country which they called Crown-Prince Land, whose cliffs were covered with thousands of ducks and auks; seals lay upon the ice, and there were traces of bears, hares, and foxes. Here, over a sea comparatively free from ice, they saw land in the distance, which seemed to stretch beyond the eighty-third parallel of north latitude. Their return-journey was one of over three months' hardship, make in sledges and boats.

In Europe, the long-projected measurement of an arc of the meridian was begun last autumn.

Archæological researches have been prosecuted in Dr. Schliemann's excavations of ancient Troy; and, while many doubt its identity, M. Emile Burnouf, Mr. Gladstone, the late premier, Prof. Keller, of Freiberg, and other eminent scholars, are of the opinion that it is really the city of Priam that has been discovered. But whether the site be Troy, or not, in the twenty thousand objects unearthed we have records which carry us back to the childhood of the world. The excavations in Pompeii show that only a small part of the city has as yet been opened. Every extension adds new objects, none of which are of more interest than its paintings; without these we would have been unable to judge of the excellence to which the Greeks had arrived in the art of painting; for, while their architecture and sculpture have endured, the paintings of their great masters have perished. In Rome, the excavations have disclosed many objects connected with ancient Roman life, public and private. In the tomb of a priest, the gold threads that were woven into his robe remained when every thing else had crumbled into dust.

An ancient Egyptian medical treatise has been discovered by Prof. Ebers, of Leipsic, which, by a calendar on the back of the papyrus, discloses that it was written 1,600 years before Christ.

In Asia, the geographical explorations and researches have, during the year, been numerous and widely distributed. The Sea of Aral has been surveyed, and found to be 165 feet above the level of the ocean, and 250 feet above the Caspian. The river Oxus, which empties into it, has also been explored, revealing the fact that the country drained by the old river, whose channel is now dry, was the seat of an extensive civilization, of which nothing now remains but the ruins. Explorations have been made in the Himalaya Mountains, with a view to a railroad across Asia. The river Han-kiang, in China, hitherto almost unknown, has been found to be of great commercial importance. For the last four years the rich and prosperous country around Tien Tsin, in China, has been lying under water from inundations to a depth of nearly five feet, and the unfortunate inhabitants of this once fertile region have been driven to seek new homes in the waste country north of the Great Wall. Many unknown regions have been visited by travelers and explorers, who found new countries, peoples, and customs. In the Kassia tribes, between Siam and Burmah, the doctrine of woman's rights is fully carried out. The women own the land, live in their own houses, do the courting, marrying, divorcing, and the lion's share of work; the men, being the weaker half, and not responsible for the maintenance of the family, do comparatively nothing, and take life easy!

A savage tribe, the remnant of a very ancient people, has been visited on the western coast of India. They are remarkable for their unswerving truthfulness. The women wear over their usual garment an apron of green leaves, the relic of an ancient custom, suggesting a passage in Genesis. In the central provinces the site of an ancient city has been discovered buried in dense jungles, and bearing inscriptions of two and a half centuries before Christ. The inscriptions are chiefly the records of donors of columns, like those seen in the gift-windows of our own churches.

In Palestine, Lieutenant Conder, R. E., has made important discoveries of ruins in the hill-country of Judah, which he thinks he can identify with some of the lost Biblical cities. He has found lost boundary-stones, which may prove to be the ancient Levitical landmarks. Discoveries have also been made upon Mount Zion.

At the mouth of the Persian Gulf there is a small island, of about twelve miles in circumference, called Ormus, or Hormus. Though a barren rock, it became, in the sixteenth century, from its geographical position, a place of great commercial importance and wealth, where the trade between Europe and the East was transacted. A town arose three miles in length along the coast and two miles in width. The Abbe Raynal describes it as presenting a more splendid appearance than any city in the East, and, he says, unusual opulence, an extensive commerce, the politeness of the men, and the attraction of the women, made it the seat of pleasure as well as trade. Milton refers to it in "Paradise Lost," where he describes Satan in council. Last year, Lieutenant Stiffo, of the British Navy, visited Ormus, and found that even its building-materials had been carried away, and that nothing remained of the once great and opulent city but a ruined minaret about seventy feet high, mounds strewed with broken pottery, and a vast number of water-cisterns now choked with earth.

In Africa, Lieutenant Cameron, of the Livingstone Relief Expedition, has made an important discovery which fixes the source of the Nile within known limits, and which, there is every reason to think, will connect the net-work of lakes and rivers of the water-system that Livingstone was investigating, with the great rivers that flow to the western coast of Africa, and probably with the Congo. Livingstone and Stanley had settled the fact of Lake Tanganyika's being connected with Lake Albert N'yanza on the north by a river flowing into Tanganyika. The natives informed them that a river flowed out of Tanganyika at its southern extremity, which, if true, showed that Lake Tanganyika had no connection with the Nile. This outlet Lieutenant Cameron has found on the western side of the lake, about a third of the way up its length. He went into the river about five miles, when his boat was stopped by grass and rushes. The natives informed him that this river flowed into the Lualaba, the river that Livingstone had been following up when Stanley found him. From information got from the natives, Lieutenant Cameron believes that the Lualaba is connected with the Congo, and has started to ascertain the fact. If he should be successful, and return through the Congo to the western coast, it will be one of the most important geographical achievements ever accomplished in Africa. He ascertained the elevation of Lake Tanganyika to be 2,710 feet above the sea. Dr. Nachtigal has returned from an exploration of five years in Central and Eastern Soudan. He says the curse of the country he traversed is the internal slave-trade. It has depopulated large tracts, and the wretched fugitives are now driven to sell each other as a means of subsistence. He saw a caravan of 1,000 of these unhappy wretches chained, while they were driven to the distant market of Kuka on Lake Tchad, the drivers mercilessly cutting the throats of those who were, even under the lash, unable, from exhaustion, to continue their terrible march. The Libyan Desert has been explored and found to be the most sterile part of the Sahara, being a dried-up basin of a shallow sea below the level of the Mediterranean, the present surface of which was found to be a dry chalk plateau, like the Swabian Alps. A French expedition is making preliminary investigations as to the feasibility of M. Lesseps's project for creating an inland sea south of Tunis. The project is opposed by many familiar with this part of Africa, not only as useless, but it would have an injurious effect on the climate of the south of Europe, and also destroy the great source of wealth in this part of Africa, the cultivation of the date-tree. The existing commerce can be sufficiently carried on by caravans, so that the commercial results of the undertaking would never justify the enormous expenditure, which is estimated at £24,000,000. Along the western coast of Africa, explorations have been unusually active. Dr. Güssfeldt made a journey up the Quilla River, and found a country reminding him of Switzerland. The west coast expedition for the relief of Dr. Livingstone give an interesting account of the region traversed. They found the natives civilized but indolent, and their attention was being given to the cultivation of the India-rubber tree, of the value of which the natives were previously ignorant. On the east coast Mr. Stanley has organized an expedition from Zanzibar at the joint expense of the New York Herald and the London Telegraph, to explore the region last visited by Dr. Livingstone. The French Marine and the Geographical Society will also send an expedition in the same direction. In Australasia, Prof. J. B. Steere, of the Michigan University, has, during a seven months' exploration in Formosa, gathered much valuable information respecting the island and its people. Interesting explorations have been made around New Guinea by H. M. S. Basilisk, and in Australia several remarkable journeys have been made across the country, through dreary regions and among natives in the lowest scale of humanity. A census of the island of Ceylon has been taken for the first time, and found to be 2,500,000; and in the course of the year the Feejee Islands, 312 in number, and covering an area of 8,034 square miles, have been annexed to the kingdom of Great Britain. The world is fully awake to the importance of geographical inquiry, and its thirty-five geographical societies watch the progress of the lonely traveler and self-sacrificing missionary, estimating their labor at its value, and welcoming every addition they make to the stock of human knowledge.