Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 9/August 1876/Miscellany

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 9‎ | August 1876


The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.—The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia having, at the beginning of the present year, taken possession of its commodious new building, Prof. E. D. Cope avails himself of the occasion to suggest in the Penn Monthly some needed changes and improvements in its organization. The objects of the Academy, as stated by its founder, are, the promotion of original investigation, the imparting of instruction, and the diffusion of knowledge. The Academy possesses a moderate fund for promoting the last-named object, and publishes its "Transactions" regularly. But the other two objects do not receive the same attention. Original research is not materially encouraged by the Academy, and in one instance funds, supposed to be devoted to research, were hoarded and after-ward turned over to the building-fund. Less than five hundred dollars per annum is devoted to "instruction." The chief fault found by Prof. Cope in the organization of the Academy is that, while it secures good financial management, it minimizes the scientific features of the body. "Its officers are the usual president, vice-president, secretary, etc., constituting a management as appropriate to an historical society, library company, or, I might add, church vestry, as to an academy of natural sciences. It has no position designed for its distinctive and essential feature, its scientific experts."

Prof. Cope's remedy is simply to adopt the organization which is possessed by all similar institutions the world over. "Let it create as many positions as there is reasonable probability of receiving endowments in future years, and attach to them privileges which will render them desirable to incumbents, and duties such as are necessary to the Academy."


Wyville Thomson on Oceanic Circulation.—Prof. Wyville Thomson, in a report to the hydrographer to the British Admiralty, discusses the problem of oceanic circulation, and gives reasons for believing that the bottom water of the two great oceans is an extremely slow indraught from the Southern Sea. This indraught he refers to the simplest and most obvious of all causes, viz., the excess of evaporation over precipitation in the northern portion of the hind hemisphere, and the excess of precipitation over evaporation in the middle and southern part of the water hemisphere. In concluding the report, Prof. Thomson further says, "I need scarcely add that I have never seen, whether in the Atlantic, the Southern Sea, or the Pacific, the slightest ground for supposing that such a thing exists as a general vertical circulation of the water of the ocean depending upon differences of specific gravity."


The Discovery of Anæsthesia.—Dr. H. P. Steams, of Hartford, at the close of an able "Critique on the History of Modern Anæsthesia," which appears in the Medical Record, sums up in the following terms the results obtained by sundry prominent claimants of the honors of discovery: 1. In December, 1844, Wells made the suggestion and applied the test in his own person, by inhaling a large dose of nitrous oxide, and having a tooth extracted without pain. 2. In September, 1846, Morton, a former pupil of Wells's, aware of his discovery and repeating his experiments, extracted a tooth without pain, while the patient was under the influence of sulphuric ether. 3. In 1847 Simpson first introduced the practice of anæsthesia in midwifery, thereby making known more widely its value. He also discovered the anæsthetic properties of chloroform, and by his writings and teachings very largely contributed, to introducing the practice of anæsthesia to the world. 4. Others have since discovered the anæsthetic properties of different vapors, which are more or less used in practice.


Loss of Self-Control in Battle.—In his "History of the Civil War in America," the Count de Paris gives some curious instances of the loss of self-possession among soldiers in the heat of battle. He states that, among 24,000 loaded muskets picked up at random on the Gettysburg battle-field, one-fourth only were properly loaded; 12,000 contained each a double charge, and the other fourth from three to ten charges. In some there were six balls to a single charge of powder; others contained six cartridges, one on top of the other, without having been opened. A few had twenty-three complete charges regularly inserted. Finally, in the barrel of a single musket there were found, confusedly jumbled together, twenty-two balls and sixty-two buckshot, with a proportionate quantity of powder! "But we should not severly criticise the American soldier," adds the author, "for it appears that an examination of the battle-fields of the Crimea gave similar results."


Pennsylvania Coal-Supply.—The available coal of the Alleghany coal-field is estimated by Mr. Andrew Roy, in the Engineering and Mining Journal, at 743,424,000,000 tons, an amount nearly ten times greater than the estimates made by Edward Hull and Warrington Smith of the coal resources of the British Isles. The same writer states the aggregate thickness of workable coal in the anthracite regions of Pennsylvania as 200 feet in 2,175 feet of coal-measures. In the bituminous regions of Pennsylvania, near Pittsburg, he estimates 60 or 70 feet of workable coal to 2,000 feet of coal-measures. In West Virginia, where the Kanawha River cuts the coal-measures to their base, 78 feet thickness of coal in 16 seams is revealed; and along the Ohio, from Bellaire to Pomeroy, the proportion is 40 or 50 feet of coal in 1,200 to 1,400 of rock. The number of workable seams and consequent thickness of coal in every division of the coal-area are in proportion to the thickness of the carboniferous rocks. Beginning at the base of the coal-measures, and reaching up to the height of 400 feet, to the base of the barren measures, there exist, in the bituminous regions, 3 feet of coal for every 50 feet of strata. The next 400 feet are generally barren of workable coal; but from the Pittsburg seam, which is the lowest bed of the upper series, to the outcrops or top of the coal-strata, the same general estimate of 3 feet of workable coal to every 50 feet of rock will hold good.


The People of Eastern New Guinea.—Signor d'Albertis agrees with Moresby in describing the inhabitants of Eastern New Guinea as of materially different race from the true Papuans, who are found in the far west of the island. The people of Yule Island, and of the coasts east and west of it, resemble those of the Polynesian region in many respects. The indigenous Papuans, physically and morally inferior to these Polynesian invaders, have been driven from the coast, where the land is comparatively healthy and fertile, and have permitted the intruders to establish themselves and multiply. The inhabitants of the interior are darker in color, the hair is more frizzed, and there is a difference in the form of the face, the prognathous appearance being more common than on the coast. From what D'Albertis has seen of the interior, he concludes that the land is very suitable for colonization, being well watered, with abundance of grass, and having a good climate without excessive heat. The natives are described as "intelligent, industrious, and persevering."


Body Temperature of the Drunkard.—Observations made by Dr. Reincke, of Hamburg, on eighteen drunken men, leave no doubt as to the great reduction of temperature in such persons, when the external conditions favor the withdrawal of the bodily heat. Alcohol produces a dilatation of the peripheral vessels, whereby more blood enters the skin and contributes to raise its temperature. If the body be well clothed and protected from external influences likely to abstract heat, the reduction of its warmth is inconsiderable; but if exposed to cold and placed under circumstances favorable to the abstraction of heat, there is a rapid loss of warmth from the blood circulating in the skin. The lowest temperature met with by Reincke—lower than in any recorded instance in which the individual survived—was the case of a man thirty-four years old, picked up in the street about midnight in February, when the temperature of the air was 30° Fahr. He was in a state of complete alcoholic coma, responding to no stimulant. At 8 a. m. his temperature, in recto, was only 75°, but at 12 m. it reached nearly 82°. At this period reaction began to show itself, and he could mutter a few words. From this point the heat of the body gradually increased and had reached the normal point the following morning.


Houses for the Industrious Poor.—The problem of cheap and commodious housing for the worthy poor continues to occupy the attention of philanthropists. We have already made mention in these columns of the bequest made by the late George Peabody for the erection of improved tenement-houses for the industrious poor of London. The trustees of the Peabody fund have recently completed twelve of these buildings, capable of accommodating 1,000 persons. In each building there are twenty-two tenements, consisting of one, two, or three rooms, with a separate entrance for each. The rooms are of good size, those of the three-roomed tenements being as follows: Kitchen, fifteen by twelve feet, a bedroom, sixteen by fourteen feet, second bedroom, sixteen by twelve feet, the rent being 5s. 9d. per week. The rent of a two-roomed tenement is 4s. 6d., and for one room 3s. There are several cupboards and a meat-safe inside, and a coal-bin in the passage outside. On each flat is a laundry with every convenience; this is used by the tenants in turn. There is also a bath. The rules to be observed by the tenants are but few in number, and intended merely to secure cleanliness and good order. No one is allowed to occupy these buildings who earns more than thirty shillings per week.


Present Condition of the Suez Canal.—M. de Lesseps, on his return to Paris, after a five months' visit to Suez, communicated to the Académie des Sciences the details of his observations upon the present state of the isthmian canal. Port Saïd he found to be in no danger at all of being filled up with sand. The dredging-machine suffices to keep the channel clear. Moreover, it does not fill up so rapidly as has been supposed, for the work done last year still remains, and two very large ships have recently navigated the canal without difficulty—one of them drawing over twenty feet of water. In winter the current of the canal sets in toward the Mediterranean, owing to the excess of water in the Bitter Lakes; in summer the current is in the opposite direction. Since the construction of the canal there are frequent showers on the Red Sea, whereas, previously, rain was unknown there—a very extraordinary thing indeed, if it can be shown to be a fact. This rainfall, says M. de Lesseps, has started vegetation even on the Asiatic shore of the Red Sea, where the infiltration is only of salt-water.


Prehistoric Relics at the Centennial Exposition.—Mr. Ernest Ingersoll, natural history editor of Forest and Stream, has commenced in that journal a series of letters on the Philadelphia Exhibition. In his first letter he describes the collections of American prehistoric relics exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution and by various States, especially Ohio. For the purposes of general illustration, the Smithsonian collection he pronounces the best; but the State collections possess greater interest for the archaeologist, as embracing many unique objects, only casts of some of which are to be found in the Smithsonian display. In the Ohio collection, the first object which attracts attention is an immense axe of greenstone, sixteen and a half inches long. The arrow-heads and spear-points—chiefly of chalcedony—are remarkably fine. A few of these are made of obsidian, which must have been brought from Mexico. Articles of mica are there also, which must have been imported from a distance. The ornaments of the mound-builders are well represented, and include a variety of forms, all cut out of a blue Silurian slate-rock. Pipes of both the modern Indians and of the mound-builders are shown, the latter always carved in the form of some animal. One case contains a lot of awls, needles, and arrow-points, of bone and bear's teeth, upon which rude carvings are executed. There are also several human skulls in good condition. There are numerous photographs and maps of the enormous structures erected by the mound-builders throughout the Ohio Valley and northward.


Winter Fauna of Mount Marcy.—While engaged last winter on the survey of the Adirondack region, Mr. Verplanck Colvin made some observations upon the winter fauna of Mount Marcy, and has since read a paper on that subject before the Albany Institute. Among the most important of the animals whose footprints were found in the snow was the panther (Felis concolor). Rabbit-tracks which accompanied the panther's trail indicated that the "mountain lion" had been in pursuit of small game. Next in importance to the panther in the list of species, the trails of which were observed, was the Canada lynx; this animal, too, had been rabbit-hunting. The footprints of the black cat (Mustela Canadensis) were frequently met with, associated with the tracks of rabbits and even of mice The sable (Mustela martes) is abundant in the forests on the sides of Mount Marcy. Tracks of the ermine (Putorius noveboracensis) were recognized in one place, but the animal does not seem to be common. The rabbit, or, more properly, the white or varying hare (Lepus americanus), is so abundant as to bear the inroads of its many foes without apparent diminution. The common red squirrel (Sciurus hudsonius) was found at an altitude of about 4,000 feet; it feeds here on the seeds of the black spruce. On the slopes of the mountain, at all elevations not exceeding 4,000 feet, were seen the tracks of deer-mice, and occasionally the minuter trail of a small shrew. Of birds three varieties had left their footprints in the snow—the raven, the ruffled grouse, and the snow-bird. During a thaw in October a small moth was captured on the summit of the mountain; it has been recognized as belonging to a species abundant in Alaska. During the same thaw a beetle was found upon the very summit of the peak.


Eucalypti as Timber-Trees.—There are in Australia a number of species of gum-trees, or Eucalypti, the best known being the Eucalyptus globulus, or blue gum. As timber-trees their properties differ widely. The tewart, a variety of the white gum-tree, is of straight growth and noble dimensions. The wood is yellowish, hard, heavy, and strong, with a grain-so twisted and curled that it is difficult to cleave or work it. This wood is very durable. The wood of the jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) is much used for telegraph-posts and railroad-ties. It defies the white ant and teredo, and is practically unaffected by time, weather, or water. The kari (Eucalyptus diversicolor) is a magnificent tree, but the timber is subject to "star-shake." The iron-bark (Eucalyptus resinifera) produces timber that is very hard, heavy, and strong. It is very difficult to work. The wood of the blue gum is of a pale straw-color, hard, heavy, but only moderately strong. It is a durable wood, but its value is much discounted by its tendency to split. The stringy-bark (Eucalyptus gigantea) is a lofty tree; the wood is brown, hard, heavy, and strong. It is used for all kinds of work.


Concrete Construction.—One of the most interesting features of last years International Exhibition, at London, was the show of buildings of concrete in course of erection. One exhibitor showed a building, the material of which was concrete, faced with tile and terra-cotta mouldings. In this case the tiles are arranged in a supporting frame in their proper position, and concrete is then filled in behind. The cost is stated to be about the same as the best brickwork. As regards the strength of concrete constructions, Mr. W. C. Homersham, C. E., states that the staging necessary for carrying a concrete floor, in the green or wet state, of a room say twelve and a half by twenty-five feet, may be struck in a week after the completion of the floor, if the concrete be only six inches in uniform thickness, and gauged in such proportions that every cubic yard when in situ contains four bushels of Portland cement, and six bushels of clean, sharp, siliceous sand. One month after the concrete has set, the floor would be capable of sustaining an equally-distributed load of 112 pounds to the foot superficial, and, twelve months after, an equally-distributed load of 450 pounds per foot superficial. If the thickness of the flooring be increased to twelve inches, and the concrete gauged as before, a room nineteen and a half feet in width by any length may be covered with the same results as to strength, as those given above for the room twelve and a half feet in width. A wall of concrete is impervious to water, and fire-proof.


A Relic of the Mound-Builders.—Through the kindness of Prof. A. E. Dolbear, of Tufts College, Massachusetts, I am enabled to present to the attention of archæologists a brief notice and figure of an unusually interesting specimen of carving in stone, the work of the mound-builders of Ohio. The history of the specimen, as given me by Prof. Dolbear, is briefly this: "It was ploughed up in a field a few miles from Marysville, Union County, Ohio."

The relic is a small pebble of bluish-gray slate, highly polished, and ground to a moderately sharp edge. The front or carved side is oval and of a uniform surface; the back is sloped from a central flat oval space, about one-fourth of an inch in its long diameter. Had the specimen not the carving of a face upon it, it could properly be classed with that form of implement known as the "celt," although these very seldom have an edge extending along the entire margin. Circular celts or "skinning-knives," of about the same size, with a cut-ting-edge along the whole margin, have been found by the writer, in New Jersey.

PSM V09 D534 A relic of the mound builders.png

The remarkable feature of the relic here described is the human face carved upon one side. As a representation of a woman's face, it is certainly artistically executed. As has been remarked of a mound-builder's smoking-pipe, having a somewhat similar carving,[1] "the muscles of the face are faithfully rendered, and the forehead is finely moulded. The eyes are prominent and the chin open, and full and rounded." The nose and mouth are distinctly cut, but not as accurately finished as the other features.

Although the labor expended upon the stone to bring it to so well defined an edge, about its margins, was so considerable, the specimen can scarcely be considered an ornamented cutting-implement. Celts, such as we have referred to, are never marked by carvings, even of plain lines, so far as we have collected them in New Jersey; although some other forms, as plummets (?) and pestles, were occasionally carved. What, indeed, this relic really was, when the aborigine who carved it had it in possession, it is useless to-conjecture. Its value now consists in its being a well-preserved specimen of the work of a stone-age savage; and possibly a characteristic delineation of the features of a woman of the race known as the mound-builders.

Charles C. Abbott, M. D.


The Loan Exhibition in London.—The exhibition of scientific instruments at London was opened with an address by Mr. W. Spottiswoode, F.R.S., who, after calling attention to the great number of antique instruments present, dwelt upon the valuable services often rendered to science by earnest students possessed of very inadequate means. "In reviewing," he said, "the series of ancient, or, at least, now disused instruments, one thing can hardly fail to strike the attention of those who are accustomed to the use of the modern forms. It is this: how much our predecessors managed to achieve with the limited means at their disposal. If we compare the magnificent telescopes, the exquisite clock-work, the multiplicity of optical appliances now to be found in almost every private, and still more in every public observatory, with those of two centuries past; or, again, if we look at the instruments with which Arago and Brewster made their magnificent discoveries in polarized light, in contrast to those with which the adjoining room is literally teeming, we may well pause to reflect how much of their discoveries was due to the men themselves, and how comparatively little to the instruments at their command.

"And yet we must not measure either the men or their results by this standard alone. The character of the problems which Nature propounds varies greatly from time to time. First we have some great striking question, the very conception and statement of which demand the highest powers of the human mind. Next follow the first outlines of the solution sketched by some master-hand; afterward the careful and often tedious working out of the details of the problem, the numerical evaluation of the constants involved, and the reduction of all the quantities to strict measurement. It is in this part of the business that the more elaborate instruments are specially required. It is for bringing small differences to actual measurement that the complex refinements with which we are here surrounded become of the first importance. But happily this complication is not of perennial growth. In reviewing from time to time the various aspects of a problem in connection with the instrumental appliances designed for its solution, the essential features come out by degrees more strongly in relief. One by one the unimportant parts are cast aside, and the apparatus becomes reduced to its essential elements."


  1. "Flint Chips," p. 433, American edition.