Alexander von Humboldt.

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as being numerous, and running directly in from the
Mode of river. Wherever a seam of whitish blotch is discovered,
""'*'"" the miners set to work, and when a ruby is found, it is

always encased in a round nodule of considerable size. The
mines have not been worked since Badakhshan fell into
the hands of the Kunduz chief, who, irritated, it is sup-
posed, at the small jirofit they yielded, marclied the inhabi-
tants of the district, then numbering about 500 families,
to Kunduz, and disposed of them in the slave market."


According to the most recent accounts, tlie plain of cnAPTER
Khorasan, which runs in the direction of Herat, and ^^^^^^-
limits the Hindoo-kho to the north, appears to be rather
a continuation of the Tsung-ling, or the Mountains of The TsunR-
Onions, as tliis chain is somewhat quaintly distinguished, ''""■
and of the whole system of Kwan-lun to the west, than
a prolongation of the Himalayas as has been commonly
supposed. From the Tsung-ling the Kwan-lun, or Koul-
koun range, runs from west to east towards the sources
of the Hoang-ho or Yellow River, and penetrates with
its snowy summits into Slien-see, a province of China.
Nearly in the meridian of these springs rises the great
mass of mountains on the lake Khoukhou-noor, resting Mountains
to the north upon the snowy chain of the Nan-shan or Khoukhou-
Ki-leen-shan, which also runs from west to east. Be- "oor.
tween Nan-shan and Thian Chan, the heights of Tangout
limit the margin of the upper desert of Cobi or Shamo,
which is prolonged from south-west to north-east. The
latitude of the central part of the Kwan-lung range is
35° 30'.

The Himalaya system separates the valleys of Cash- Himalaya
mere and Nepaul from Bootan and Thibet. To the west ^^ ^"''
it rises in the mountain Javaher to an elevation of 25,746
feet, and to the east in Dhwalagiri to 27,737 feet above
the level of the sea. Its general direction is from north-
west to south-east, and thus it is not at all parallel to
the Kwan-lun range, to which it approaches so near in
the meridian of Attok and Jellalabad that they seem to
form the same mass of mountains. Following the Ha- Eastern
malaya range eastward, we find it bordering Assam on
the north, containing the sources of tlie Brahmapoutra,
passing through the northern part of Ava, and penetrat-
ing into Yun-nan, a province of China, to the west of
Yong-tchang. It there exhibits pointed and snow-clad
summits. It bends abruptly to the north-east, on the
confines of Hou-quang, Kiang-see, and Fo-kien, and ad-
vances its snowy peaks towards the ocean ; the island of
Formosa, the mountains of which are in like manner



chain of

of the

CITAPTER covered during the greater part of summer, being its ter-

" ' ■ mination. Tlius we may follow the Himalaya system as

a continuous chain from the Eastern Ocean, through
Hindoo-kho, across Candahar and Khorasan, to beyond
the Caspian Sea in Azerbijan, along an extent of 73 de-
grees, or half the length of the Andes. The western
extremity, which is volcanic (like the eastern part), loses
its character of a chain in the moimtains of Armenia,
which are connected with Sangalou, Bingheul, and Kach-
mirdaugh, in the pashalic of Erzeroum. The mean di-
rection of the system is north 55° west.

These mountain chains, with their various ramifica-
tions and intervening platforms and valleys, afford evi-
dence to our author of revolutions anciently undergone
by the crust of the globe ; these having been elevated by
matter thrust up in the line of enormous cracks and
fissures. The great depression of Central Asia, spoken
of above, he considers as having been caused by the same
action. Analogous to the Caspian Sea and other cavities
in this district, are the lakes formed in Europe at the foot
of the Alps, and which also owe their origin to a sinking
of the ground. It is chiefly in the extent of this depres-
sion of Central Asia, and consequently in the space where
the resistance was least, that we find traces of volcanic

On this subject of volcanic action, and the upheaval
and depression of vast areas, much new and very impor-
tant light has recently been brought to bear from an
entirely novel source. Turning from the phenomena of
our own planet, philosophers have directed their improved
telescopes to the moon, and by an intelligent analj'ses of
the peculiar features which it exhibits have been able
largely to add to our knowledge of the sources of many
of the most remarkal)]e physical characteristics of our
own planet. At the meeting of the British Association,
held at Edinlnu'gh in 1850, Mr Nasmyth made a most
interesting communication on the lunar surface. His
attention, he said, had been directed for some time to



the remarkable appearances on the surface of the moon, chapter
in connexion with the Hght they seemed to throw on tiio -^•'^^'^'^-
study of geology, and he had procured some powerful Application
telescopes in order to observe them more particularly, in "^ ^^^'^^°v^
addition to liiniself constructing one of great power, by
the aid of which many of his most valuable observations
have been made. He exhibited a variety of drawings
which have been taken by himself from what he observed.
The largest was a map, on a great scale, of the entire
lunar surface, on which was strikingly depicted the pe-
culiar nature of its surface, crowded with craterlike cups,
in some places so close as to overlie each other, and as it
were elbow each other out of the way. Other views in-
cluded various portions of the surface which had been se-
lected for more minute study. These representations have concinsiona
all been drawn from observations made in the most fa- established
vourable circumstances, and with great care, the result
of which is, that the conclusion is even stronger than in
the case of the earth, that it was once wholly in a molten
condition. The central cones seen in three-fourths of
the lunar mountains show plainly that the formation
observed is volcanic. These cones in the case of terres-
trial volcanoes are the result of the expiring action of
the volcano, after the eruptive energy has ceased to be
able to project the molten mass over the sides of the
crater, and the same thing has taken place in the moon.
Many of its volcanoes are 60 or 70 miles across the SizcoflunaT
crater — many times larger than those on the earth. But " "'^
it is just because it is a very small body that it has very
large volcanoes. The force of gravitation is much less at
the moon, and hence the ejective force is able to expel
greater masses, and to act more uninterruptedly. The
crater of Etna is but a spot compared with some of those
in the moon. The proportional size of these lunar craters
may indeed be described as bearing in some degree an
inverse ratio to the relative size of the earth and moon.
The smallness of the moon, its mass being to that of
the earth as 1 to 64, and its surface as 1 to 16, is also




of pheno-



R the cause of the multitude as well as of the mau;nitu(le of
these volcanoes. As tlie outer crust cooleJ, tlie moon

n would become, so to speak, hide-bound, and, by the con-
traction of the surface upon the liquid mass beneath, the
latter would be spurted out in every direction, while the
foi'mer would also exliibit those radiating striae or cracks
which are so very marked a feature in its appearance.
Some of these cracks are upwards of 700 miles long. In il-
lustration of the mode in which it is probable this appear-
ance was produced in the moon, Mr. Naysniith showed
portions of glass globes, which, after being filled with hot
water, and then hermetically sealed, were broken by the
application of cold to the outside. Besides the craters
and tliese striae, there are also many trachytic domes,
where the force of ejtction has not been sufficiently great
to form craters ; and lastly, there are great ranges of hills,
the formation of which appears to have taken place in
this way : — as contraction goes on, the liquid nucleus
separates itself from the solid crust ; the latter is bent
inwai-ds by the force of gravitation, and a cracking and
crushing action takes place, with farther eruptions in
mountain crests ; or two adjacent surfaces are raised edge
on edge as in fields of ice. A shrivelled apple maj' be
referred to as affording a familiar illustration of this ap-
peai'ance and its cause.

Several volcanoes are described by ancient Chinese
writers, wlio also mention a variety of volcanic products,
sucli as sal ammoniac and sulphur, which form articles
of commerce. " We thus know," says Humboldt, " in
the interior of Asia, a volcanic territorj-, the surface of
which is u])\vards of 2500 square geographical miles,
and wliicli is from 1400 to 1800 miles distant from the
sea. It fills the half of the longitudinal valley situated
between the first and second system of mountains. The
jirincipal seat of volcanic action appears to be in the
Thian Chan. Perhaps the colossal Bokhda-oola is a
trachytic formation like Chimborazo." On both sides of
the Thian Chan violent earthquakes occur. The city of


Aksou was entirely destroyed at the commencement of chapter
the eighteenth century by a commotion of this nature. >^xviiL
In Eastern Siberia, the centre of the circle of shocks ap- Volcanic
pears to be at Irkutzk, and in the deep basin of the sI^^l^"!.'"
Baikal lake, in the vicinity of which volcanic products
are observed. But this point of the Altaic range is the
extreme limit of these phenomena, no earthquakes hav-
ing been experienced farther to the west, in the plains
of Siberia, between the Altaic and Uralian ranges, or in
any part of the latter.

It at once satisfies all the requirements of our reason CoiTcspon
and observation, to refer the origin of the great areas of fL^,".estri:a

upheaval or depression to the same operations as are now and lunar
,. ,1- i-i c J phenomena,

discoverable m an earner stage or progress, and upon a

large scale, in the attendant lunar satellite of our own
planet. Thus does extended observation, and legitimate
scientific induction, bring apparently the most diverse
and unconnected phenomena to bear upon each other, and
prove a remarkable and uninterrupted harmony to pre-
vail throughout systems which, to the superficial obser-
ver, had seemed to possess no single feature in common.

Viewed in the light of this new theory, many terres-
trial phenomena will now be simplified and reduced to
rule, which formerly were of difficult solution, if not
apparently altogether lawless and incomprehensible ; and
thus, even the intelligent observations and comprehen-
sive deductions of Humboldt are illuminated by a new
light, of which he was unaware.

The volcanic territory of Bichbalik is situated to the Volcanic
east of this great depression of Asia, for which it is con- uichbaiiii.
ceived the singularly interesting speculations of Mr.
Nasmyth are so entirely fitted to account. To the south
and west of the same internal basin we find two cones
in activity, — Demawutid, which is visible from Teheran,
and Seiban of Ararat, which is covered with vitreous
lavas. On both sides of the isthmus, between the Cas-
pian and the Black Sea, springs of naphtha and mud-
eruptions are numerous.
2 A


CHAPTER Pursuing our investigations of tlie great features of
K.vuiL |.|jg Asiatic continent where it passes into that of Europe,
if we proceed from tlie Caucasian isthmus to the noi'th
and north-west, we arrive at the territory of the great
Soutiieni horizontal and tertiary deposites of Southern Russia and
Pofaiii''"^ Poland. These are situated on the western margin of
the great Asiatic area of depression. Here we find igne-
ous rooks piercing the red sandstone of Jekaterinoslav,
together with asphaltum, and springs impregnated with
sulphurous gases.
Central A. phenomenon so great as that of the central depres-

depression of gj^j^ ^f ^gia, which resemhles the circular valleys of the
moon, could have been produced only b}' such a very
powerful cause acting in the interior of the earth, as has
been assumed to account for the corresponding features
visible on the moon's surface. This cause, while form-
ing the crust of the globe by sudden raisings and sink-
ings, probably filled with metallic substances the fissures
of the Uralian and Altaic chains, injecting into them,
from the liquid central regions, these rich veins of ores,
and mineral treasures, which now repay the labours of
the miner ; while they supply to the philosopher pecu-
liar elements by which to classify the various ranges of
upheaval, and even to assign a relative chronology to the
several mountain chains that range across the continent
of Asia, and are continued to the west of Europe.
Ural inoun The great chain of the Ural mountains does not pro-

tain system, pej.jy belong to the mountain systems of Central Asia,
being itself the boundary line which separates the con-
tinents of Asia and Europe, and having thus an Asiatic
and a European slojie, the mineral and geological cha-
racteristics of which differ in many important points.
This subject has been illustrated at great lengtli, by Sir
Roderick Impey Murchison, aided by M. De Verneuil and
Count Alexander Von Keyserling, in their valuable work
on the geology of Russia in Europe, and the Ural moun-
tains. In this work, consideral)le advance is made on
the previous observations of Humboldt. The great


meridional chain of the Ural mountains extends over chapter
18' of latitude, from the Arctic Ocean on the north, ac- ^^^"-
cording to Humboldt, to the higher grounds between
the Aral and the Caspian Sea. The Ural mountains Minerals anJ
are composed of crystalline and slaty rocks, abounding °^'^
in minerals and metallic ores. Numerous outbursts of
eruptive rocks have broken up, and overflowed the ear-
lier strata, rendering their exact separation and orderly
classification extremely difficult. In the remarkable
series of geological changes which have produced these
results, all the richest metalliferous ores have been pro-
duced on the Asiatic flank, where they are found in
veins, masses, or irregular deposits. This region accord-
ingly supplied, for a considerable period, one of the
chief sources of economic mineral wealth, and is still
wrought for this purpose with considerable success.

In accounting for some of the remarkable geological Geoloricai
phenomena discoverable in the Ural mountains, the ^ enumena.
authors of the Geology of Russia and the Ural Moun-
tains remark : — " The low region of Siberia, into which
these folds or corrugations pass, is to a great extent
occupied by granitic rocks. With very limited excep-
tions, true gi-anites seem never to enter into the higher
portions of the Ural, the culminating points of which Character-
generally consist of altered palseozoic strata, usually in
the state of quartzose and chioritic rocks, sometimes as
mica schists, with saccharoid marble, whilst promonto-
ries of greenstone, porphyry, and syenite, indenting and
breaking in, as it were, upon the central and sub-crystal-
line ridge, often constitute the highest peaks.

" Notwithstanding, however, the striking contrast which Successive
is presented by the opposite sides of the Ural chain, we
convinced ourselves that, in the early periods, there had
taken place, all over this region, and probably extending
far into Siberia, a deposition of Silurian, Devonian, and
Carboniferous strata, which, by the linear outbursts of
granitic rocks on some lines, and of porphyries and green-
stones on others, in lines from N. to E., was thrown up







into, and formed, this chain anterior to the accumula-
tion of the Permian deposits. As the latter have not
been observed on its eastern flank, we may be permitted
to surmise, that in those early periods a large portion of
Siberia adjacent to the Ural was also raised from beneath
the sea, and put without the reach of these waters, un-
der which the upper sands and their associated marine
animals were accumulated."

The geological phenomena of the great Ural system
are of the most remarkable description. The strata ap-
pear, in some cases, highlj' metamorphosed by the subse-
quent action of heat ; in other cases, they ai'e dislocated
and intermingled with intrusive igneous rocks, broken up,
and thrown about in the most irregular manner, and even
in some remarkable cases, completely inverted. It is ob-
vious, indeed, that no single theory will sufRce to account
for all the geological changes discoverable by the careful
scientific observer in these extensive mountain systems.
Some of the phenomena are the result of a slow, conti-
nuous element of change, operating over a very long
I^eriod of time ; while others can only be ascribed to
some vast and terrible natural convulsion, in which the
internal fountains of molten material have forced their
way through the consolidated crust of the earth, break-
ing up and dislocating its strata, crushing it together
like ice flows, into the mountain ranges which remain
extended through many degrees, and injecting and over-
flowing the whole with igneous and metalliferous forma-
tions. It is during some of the latest changes of geolo-
Formatinn oi gical periods that the valuable metalliferous deposits are
dlS'i^"""' supposed to have been formed. "That the Uralian
chain," the authors of the Geology of the Ural Moun-
tains remark, " became auriferous during the most
recent disturbances liy which it was affected, and that
this took i)lace when its highest peaks were thrown up,
when its present water-shed was established, and when
the .syenitic granites, and other comparatively recent
igneous rocks were erupted along its western slopes.

sources of


" The only detritus in which grains and portions of CHAPTEB
gold and platinum have been found, is, in truth, that in ^^^Vlll.
which remains of mammoths and rhinoceroses have also
been detected ; and coupling this last fact with the
omission of all auriferous veins in the more ancient allu- Auriferous
via of the chain, there can be no doubt that in this ^''^"^^■
region gold was one of the most recent mineral produc-
tions anterior to the historic era. The very nature and
form of the ground in which the auriferous debris have
been heaped up, shows, that unlike the ancient or Per-
mian detritus; this took up its position when the pre-
sent configuration had, to a great extent, been brought
about, and when valleys existed, in which large quadru-
peds, closely allied to those which now live among us,
were entombed. We believe, then, that before the sur-
face assumed its present outline, the tract we now call
the Ural mountains was a low ridge, extending from
north to south, and forming the western shore of a con-
tinent on which such animals lived and died during
long ages."

Into the very interesting inquiries relating to the Jiammoth
habitat of the mammoth, and the valuable discussions
by which men of science have sought to clear up the
mystery pertaining to this extinct species, it is not
necessary to enter at any very great length. In 1829,
the valuable gold mines of Peshanka, near Bogoslofsk,
were discovered, and have since been wrought with great
success. In the same auriferous district, the bones of Ossiferous
the mammoth, the rhinoceros, and boss urus, have been
found in great abundance in the clay which overlies the
gravel, and also in the gold detritus. Cuvier, and other
distinguished men of science, who have investigated this
subject, have advocated the opinion that the mammoth
was the native of a warm climate, and became extinct
by some sudden change, which entirely altered the
temperature of the regions of their habitat, preserving
them therebj', in some cases embedded in masses of ice,
in a perfect and entire state. This idea is now, however,



XXVI 1 1.




of mountain

of physical

very generally abandoned ; and the careful investiga-
tions, both of zoologists and geologists, leaves little room
to doubt that the gigantic mammoth was a native of
the frozen north, along with the rein-deer and other
inhabitants of the arctic regions.

Numerous important collateral points, relating to the
upheaval of land, volcanic action, marine influences,
gaseous and boiling springs, mud volcanoes, and other
remarkable natural phenomena, are brought under re-
view by the great traveller, in the course of his valuable
labours. The subject is not one calculated for popular
readers, nor is it treated as such. Nevertheless, like all
researches into the mysterious laws of the universe, it
abounds in disclosures which cannot fail to attract the
inquiring mind. The great mountain chains which have
heretofore been regarded chiefly a.s the boundaries of
kingdoms, or the natural demarcations of continents, are
reviewed by Humboldt as the indices of those great
changes by which the earth has been adapted for its
present purposes, and made meet for the habitation of
man. It is thus that the grasp of a profound intellect
traces back the operations of nature to their source, and
reveals to us the method by which the Creator works
out his plans. By such means the study of physical
geography has acquired an interest equal to that which
the wondrous revelations of the astronomer, and the
profound speculations of the geologist, had already
thrown over these kindred sciences ; and now that we
are learning to apply the remarkable phenomena dis-
cernible in the moon's illuminated phase, to instruct
us in deciphering the mysterious records of our own
planet, we may anticipate fresh insight into the causes
of the physical characteristics ])y which our earth is
heaved up into such vast mountain chains, and spread
out between into green valleys or vast plains, adapted
for every stage of being, and wonderfully suited to
supply the wants, and minister to the necessities of


It is no new idea to seek, in the attendant satellite cilAPTER
of our earth, for illustrations and elucidations of ter- -X-Wni.
restrial phenomena. It has long been the opinion of General
scientific men, tliat the moon is, to a great extent, on'iunar
passing through a stage of its being, corresponding to piienomena.
one Avliich marked the prior existence of the planet
on which it waits, and to the intelligent occupants of
which it ministers so many important benefits. Mr.
Nasniyth, in the graphic elucidation of his views, cha-
racterized it as the great health-preserver, and scaven-
ger, which maintained the waters of our planet in con-
stant motion, and thus rescued us from the pestilence
and horrors which must ensue, were the great high- Practical
way of the nations to become a universally putrid and Jhe'^moon.
stagnant sea. Again, he compared it to a mighty fixed
engine, working with systematic precision in all our
estuaries and rivers, and dragging our merchant navies
up and down the great water thoroughfares of domes-
tic traflBc. Since ever the universal dominion of tlie
law of gravitation came to be fully recognised, a grow-
ing conviction has been present in the minds of the
students of science, that a perfect harmony prevails
throughout the whole created universe. This idea has,
indeed, been recently carried to an extravagant and
foolish length. Men of shallow and superficial views,
intent on carrying out this discovery to what they superficial
assumed must be its legitimate conclusions, have ad- theories,
vanced theories equally derogatory to the Creator and
his works. Mistaking uniformity for harmony, they
have assumed that our little planet is but a type in
miniature of the whole creation, and that God, in
multiplying worlds amid the immensities of space,
has only been repeating £he one idea of which we
are cognizant. Such a misconception of the powers
of the Infinite happily does not stand in need of any
elaborate argument to confute it, for every new dis-
closure, alike of the telescope and the microscope, re-
veals the boundless diversity which prevails amid the

Online LibraryAlexander von HumboldtThe travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt → online text (page 32 of 35)