Thomas Spencer Baynes.

The encyclopaedia britannica; a dictionary of arts, sciences, and general literature (Volume 22) online

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SIBBALD, SIR ROBERT (1641-1712), maybe considered
as the most eminent representative of science and
medicine in Scotland towards the close of the 17th century.
He was born near Leslie in Fifeshire in 1641. Educated
at Edinburgh, Leyden, and Paris, he settled as a physician
in Edinburgh and soon rose to eminence. His career is
one of marked initiative : he was the first professor of
medicine in the university of Edinburgh, and the first
president of the college of physicians, and, along with Sir
Andrew Balfour, founded the botanic garden. He was
also geographer -royal, and his numerous and miscellan-
eous writings deal effectively with historical and anti-
quarian as well as botanical and medical subjects. He
died in 1712.

Amongst Sibbald's historical and antiquarian ,vorks maybe men-
tioned A History of Fife and Kinross ( Edinburgh, 1710, and Cupar,
1803), which is still indispensable to the student of local history
and antiquities ; An Account of the Scottish Atlas (folio, Edinburgh,
1683); Vindicise, Scoticfe Illustrate (folio, Edinburgh, 1710); and
Description of the Isles of Orkney and Shetland (folio, Edinburgh,
1711 and 1845). See also his Autobiography (Edinburgh, 1833),
to which is prefixed an account of his MSS.

Plate I. SIBERIA (Russ. Sibir, a word of unknown origin,
probably Permian) in the 16th century indicated the chief
settlement of the Tatar khan Kutchum, Isker on the
Name Irtish. Subsequently the name was extended so as to
and ex- include the whole of the gradually increasing Russian
tension, dominions in Asia, and in the first half of the 1 9th century
it was applied to the immense region stretching from the
Ural Mountains to the Pacific, and from the Arctic Ocean
to the Chinese frontier and the Kirghiz steppes. This
region, however varied in its separate parts, constituted a
geographical whole having its own characteristic physical
features. The division into Western and Eastern Siberia
which naturally came into general use had also a geogra-
phical meaning. In 1856, after the annexation of the
Amur and Usuri regions, Eastern Siberia was extended
so as to include the Russian dominions on the Pacific,
although these latter in reality belong climatically and
physically to a quite separate region, that of the North
Pacific littoral ; and, as the Russian dominions extended
into the Kirghiz steppes, these last were also reckoned to
Siberia, although mostly belonging in their physical
features to another geographical domain, the Aral-Cas-
pian depression. Later on these steppes were transferred


to the " Orenburg region," or to the " steppe region " ;
but, on the other hand, some districts which really belong
to Western Siberia were included under this new denomi-
nation. What is now called "Siberia "has thus lost its
geographical unity. There still remains, however, for the
geographer a vast tract of northern Asia which might be
included under this general name, as representing some
special features characteristic of the region. It would be
limited by the Ural Mountains on the west, by the Arctic
and North Pacific Oceans on the north and east respect- .
ively, and on the south by a line broadly corresponding
to the 50th degree of latitude, running from the sources
of the river LTral to the Tarbagatai range (thus separating
the steppes of the Irtish basin from those of the Aral and
Balkash basins), thence along the Chinese frontier as far
as the south-east corner of Transbaikalia, whence it might
be drawn to the Great Khingan, and along it to the upper
Zeya (tributary of the Amur) and Udskoi Ostrog on the
Sea of Okhotsk. This wide area would be naturally
subdivided into Western Siberia (basins of the Ob and
Irtish) and Eastern Siberia (the remainder of the region).
Western Siberia would include the governments of Tobolsk
and Tomsk, as well as the parts of Perm situated to the east
of the Ural Mountains, and those northern parts of Semi-
palatinsk which belong to the basins of the Irtish and the
Tobol l ; while Eastern Siberia would include the govern-
ments of Yeniseisk and Irkutsk, the provinces of Yakutsk
and Transbaikalia, together with the north-western part
of the province of Amur and the northern parts of the
Maritime Province. In fact, the north-western parts of
Manchuria situated between the Argun and the Great
Khingan, as well as the upper parts of the Selenga and
the Yenisei (Shishkit) belonging to Mongolia, are so in-
timately connected with Eastern Siberia as regards their
physical features that it is difficult for the geographer to
separate them.

Since the inclusion of Uralsk, Turgai, Akmolinsk, and Admini-
Semipalatinsk within the governor-generalship of the R trative
steppes, the present administrative subdivisions stand a s clivislons
follows :

1 This natural subdivision has been adopted by P. Semenoff in liis
valuable sketch of Western Siberia in Picturesque Russia (Jivopisnaya
Rossiya), vol. xi.



Square Miles.


Pop. per
Square Mile.









Western Siberia 1


















Eastern Siberia 1








Maritime Province




Amur ' .








It is evident that a territory so immense covering more
than 25 degrees of latitude and 120 degrees of longitude
must include a great variety of orographical and climato-
logical characters, and that the popular conception which
persists in representing Siberia as a snow-clad desert is
erroneous. In fact not to speak of the rich prairies of the
middle Amur and the Usuri region, where the wild vine
grows freely we find in Siberia proper the very fertile
black earth prairie steppes, or rather pampas, of the Tobol
and Ishim, not mere patches of fertile land, but plains
covering some 25,000,000 acres and ready to receive
millions of inhabitants ; the highlands of the Altai, with
their rich valleys, alpine lakes, glaciers, and snow-clad peaks,
a country three times as large as Switzerland and pre-
senting almost the same variety of aspects; the high plains
of Eastern Siberia, where water-melons are grown in the
fields during the short but hot summer ; the rich steppes
of Minusinsk, profusely adorned with flowers ; the lower
plateaus of Transbaikalia, embellished with the beautiful
Daurian flora and supplying food to hundreds of thousands
of cattle ; the high inhospitable marshy plateaus of the
Selenga and Vitim; vast hilly tracts densely covered
with forests, and visited only by hunters and gold-diggers ;
and beyond these the frozen tundras of the north, all these
constitute an immense world, with the most striking con-
trasts of scenery and vegetation, of manners and customs.
In one direction only is the popular conception true :
throughout its extension Siberia is the coldest country of
the world in consequence of its protracted and exceedingly
severe winter. This variety of characters will be best under-
stood from the following brief sketch of the orography.

The leading features of the orography of Siberia are so much at
variance in our best maps that a few words are necessary to ex-
plain the views taken in what follows. The inhabited districts
are well laid down ; but the immense areas between and beyond
these have only been visited by geographers and are mapped only
along a few routes hundreds of miles apart. The intermediate
spaces are filled according to information derived from native
hunters. With regard to a great many rivers we know only the
position of their mouths and their approximate lengths estimated
by natives in terms of a day's march. Even the hydrographical
network is very imperfectly known, especially in the uninhabited
hilly tracts. 2 The orographical representation of Siberia is no-
thing more than a combination of a few surveys and journeys, in
which conscious or unconscious hypothesis is resorted to in order
to connect the isolated facts. As soon as the river systems of
Siberia began to be approximately known, chains of mountains
were drawn in all hilly tracts, higher ones on the chief watersheds
and lower ones along the secondary ones. This representation
conveyed quite a false idea as to the surface configuration of Siberia.
The immense plateaus which play so predominant a part in the

1 Governor-generalships.

8 The wide area between the middle Lena and the Amur, as well as
the hilly tracts west of Lake Baikal, the Yeniseisk mining region, and
many others, are in this condition. An instance of a map distinguish-
ing between surveys and information derived from natives is given on
a cartoon of map 4 of Mem. Russ. Geogr. Soc., General Geography,
vol. iii.

structure of Asia (as they also do in the western parts of North
America) were quite overlooked. Chains of mountains were drawn
as if they rose in the midst of plains, where in reality we have
either the slopes of one side of the plateaus or border-chains. Lofty
mountains appeared where none exist, as, for instance, in those
parts of Yakutsk where tributaries of the Lena and the Amur start
from common marshes ; and some of the highest chains were re-
presented as minor upheavals because they are pierced by rivers
descending from the high plateaus to the lowlands. It was only
by making use of rich unpublished collections of barometrical
observations for the calculation of hundreds of heights that many
sections of Siberia could be drawn, 3 and by going into a minute
study of topographical materials scattered through the bulky
literature of Siberia and certain MS. field-books the whole con-
trolled by personal journeys that it became possible to arrive at
the following general conclusions as to the structure of the country,
which may be of service until more complete surveys shall have
given more reliable data. 4 This study has shown how predomi-
nant has been the part played in the formation of Siberia by huge
swellings of the earth's crust (plateaus), and how subordinate that
played by isolated chains of mountains, which latter are regulated
in their direction in north-eastern Asia by the border ridges of the
plateaus ; and it has enabled us to make out a close connexion be-
tween the structure of Central Asia and Tibet and that of north-
eastern Asia, and to establish a link between the two.

A Tast plateau, beginning in the south at the foot of the gigantic Great
semicircular border range of the Himalayas, and having the lofty plateau,
plateau of Pamir in the west and the little-known high tracts of
the upper Hoang-ho and Yang-tse-kiang in the east, extends
towards the north-eastern extremity of Asia. Broadly speaking,
it has the shape of a South America pointed towards Behring
Strait. It attains a width of no less than 1800 miles and an
altitude of from 11,000 to 14,000 feet in the south; but both
width and altitude diminish towards the north-east. In north-
west Mongolia the average height is but 4000 to 5000 feet, and
this diminishes to 3500 feet in the Vitim plateau ; while its width
is not more than 700 miles in the latitude of Lake Baikal. On the
50th parallel of latitude there occurs in the plateau a broad lateral
indentation, occupied by Lake Baikal and the plains of Kansk,
and this renders the resemblance of the plateau to South America
still more striking. This immense plateau is the remainder of a
vast and very old continent, which, so far as we know, has not
been submerged since at least the Devonian period. 5 It extends
from the Himalayas to the land of the Tchuktchis, but does not of
course present a plane surface of the same altitude in all its parts.
It is diversified in the following Avays. (1) Like other plateaus, it
has on its surface a number of gentle eminences (angehdufte Gebirge
of Ritter), which, although reaching great absolute heights, are
relatively low. These chains for the most part follow a north-
easterly direction in Siberia ; but in the southern parts of the
plateau, as we approach the Himalayas, they seem to assume a
direction at right angles (towards the north-west). (2) On the
outskirts of the plateau there are several excavations which can
best be likened to gigantic trenches, like railway cuttings when
with an insensible gradient a higher level has to be reached.
These trenches for successive geological periods have been the
drainage valleys of immense lakes (probably also of glaciers) which
formerly spread over the plateau, or fiords of the seas which sur-
rounded it. Now the chief commercial routes have been made to
follow these trenches to reach the higher level of the plateau.
Their steep excavated sides, which have the appearance of chains of
mountains to the traveller who follows the bottom of the trench,
have often been described as such ; in reality they are merely uni-
lateral slopes, which may best be compared with the steep slope of
the Jura turned towards the Lake of Geneva. We have examples of
such trenches in the valley of the Uda to the east of Lake Baikal
(route to the Amur) ; in the valley of the Orkhon, leading to
Urga and Mongolia (route to Peking), with a branch up the
Djida ; in the broad depression of the Ulungur leading from Lake
Zaisan to Barkul ; and in a few others which have been utilized as

3 A catalogue of heights in East Siberia is given in the appendix
to the present writer's " Report on the Olekma and Vitim Expedition "
(Mem. Russ. Geogr. Soc., General Geography, vol. iii., 1873) ; also in
Petermanris Mitth., 1872. The height of Irkutsk, taken as a basis
for the catalogue, has been determined since that date by a levelling
through Siberia at 1486 feet.

4 " General Sketch of the Orography of Siberia," with map and
sections, and "Sketch of the Orography of Minusinsk, &c.," by the
same writer (same series, vol. v., 1875). The views taken in these
writings have been embodied by A. Peterniaun in his map of Asia,
sheet 58 of Stieler's Hand-Atlas.

5 The great plateau of North America, also turning its narrower
point towards Behring Strait, naturally suggests the idea that there
was a period in the history of our planet when the continents turned
their narrow extremities towards the northern pole, an now they turn
them towards the southern.



, j s li u iw"' ! i- u ii t



12O 130 14-O ISO 16O

M J^-.-



routes from the Lena to the Sea of Okhotsk. (3) There are, moreover,
two terraces in the plateau, a higher and a lower, which are very
well pronounced in TRANSBAIKALIA (q.v.) and in Mongolia. The
Yablonovoi range and its south-western continuation the Kentei
are border - ridges of the upper terrace. Both rise very gently
above it, but have steep slopes towards the lower terrace, which is
occupied by the Nertchinsk steppes in Transbaikalia and by the
Gobi in Mongolia (2000 to 2500 feet above the sea). They rise to
from 5000 to 7000 feet above the sea ; the peak of Sokhoudo in
Transbaikalia reaches nearly 8500 feet. Several low chains of
mountains have their base on the lower terrace and run from
south-west to north-east; they are known as the Nertchinsk
Mountains in Transbaikalia, and their continuations reach the
northern parts of the Gobi. 1

Border- The great plateau is fringed on the north-west by a series of high
ridges of border-ridges, which have their southern base on the plateau and
great their northern at a much lower level. They may be traced from
plateau, the Thian-Shan to the arctic circle, and have an east-north-easterly
direction in lower latitudes and a north-easterly direction farther
north. Both the Alai ridge of the Pamir, continued by the Kokshal-
tau range and the Khan-Tengri group of the Thian-Shan, and the
Sail ugh em range of the Altai (see TOMSK), which is continued, in the
opinion of the present writer, in the yet unnamed border -ridge of
West Sayan (between the Bei-khem and the Us), 2 belong to this cate-
gory. There are, however, in these border-ridges several breaches of
continuity, broad depressions or trenches leading from Lake Bal-
kash and Lake Zaisan to the upper parts of the plateau. On the other
hand,there are on the western outskirts of the plateau a few mountain
chains which take a direction at right angles to the above (that is,
from the north-west to the south-east), and parallel to the great
line of upheavals in south-west Asia. The Tarbagatai Mountains,
on the borders of Siberia, as well as several chains in Turkestan,
are instances of these upheavals. But, notwithstanding these com-
plications, it remains certain that the Alai Mountains, the Khan-
Tengri group, the Sailughem range, and the "West Sayan are border-
ridges of the high plateau fringing it from 70 to 100 E. long.
These border-ridges contain the highest peaks of their respective
regions ; they are immense walls which render access to the high
plateau extremely difficult, unless the traveller follows the above-
mentioned trenches. Beyond 100 E. long, the above structure is
complicated by the great lateral indentation of Lake Baikal. But
around and beyond this lake we again find the same huge border-
ridge fringing the plateau and turning its steep north-western
slope towards the valleys of the Irkut, the Barguzin, the Muya,
and the Tchara, while its southern base lies on the plateaus of the
Selenga (nearly 4000 feet high) and the Vitim (see TRANSBAIKALIA).
The peaks of the Sailughem range reach from 9000 to 11,000 feet
above the sea, those of West Sayan about 10,000. In East Sayan
is Munku-Sardyk, a peak 10,000 feet high, together with many
others from 8000 to 9000 feet. Farther east, on the southern shore
of Lake Baikal, Khamar-daban rises to 6900 feet, and the huge
dome-shaped, bald summits of the Barguzin and Southern Muya
Mountains attain an elevation of 6000 to 7000 feet above the sea-
level. The orography of the Aldan region is but little known ;
but travellers who journey from the Aldan (tributary of the Lena)
to the Amur or to the Sea of Okhotsk have to cross the same
plateau and its border -ridge, the former becoming narrower
and barely attaining an average altitude of 3200 feet. Whether it
projects farther into the land of the Tchuktchis remains unsettled,
although the probability is that it does.

Longi- A typical feature of the north-eastern border of the high plateau
tudinal is a succession of broad longitudinal 3 valleys along its outer base,
valleys, shut in on the outer side by walls of wild mountains having a very
steep slope towards them. Formerly filled with alpine lakes, these
valleys have now a flat alluvial soil occupied by human settlements,
and are watered by rivers which flow along them before they make
their way to the north through narrow gorges pierced in the
mountain-wall just mentioned. This structure is seen in the valley
of the Us in West Sayan, in that of tha upper Oka and Irkut in
East Sayan, in the valley of the Barguzin, the upper Tsipa, the
Muya, and the Tchara, at the foot of the Vitim plateau, as also,
probably, in the Aldan. 4 The chains of mountains which fringe
these valleys on the north-west belong to the wildest parts of
Siberia. They are named the Usinsk Mountains in West Sayan
and the Tunka Alps in East Sayan ; the latter, pierced by the
Angara at Irkutsk, in all probability are continued north-eastwards

1 The lower terrace is obviously continued in the Tarim basin of East
Turkestan ; but in the present state of our knowledge we cannot determine
whether the further continuations of the border-ridge of the higher terrace
(Yablonovoi, Kentei) must be looked for in the Great Altai or in some other
range situated farther to the south. There may be also a breach of continuity
in some depression towards Barkul.

2 See " Orographical Sketch of Minusinsk, &c.," ut supra.

3 The word "longitudinal" is here used in an Orographical not a geological
sense. Meglitzki in 1S56 and recently M. Chersky have shown that these
valleys are not synclinal foldings of rocks ; they seem to be erosion-valleys.

4 We do not know at present whether the same structure is exhibited in
the Altai at the foot of the Sailughem range. The upper Bukhtarma valley
seems, however, to belong to the same type.

in the Baikal Mountains, which run from Irkutsk to Olkhon Island
and the Svyatoi Nos peninsula of Lake Baikal, thus dividing the
lake into two parts, the great and the little. 5 The Barguzin
Mountains (on the right bank of the Barguzin river) and the
Northern Muya range continue them farther to the north-east, and
most probably they are prolonged still farther on the left bank of
the Aldan.

A strip of alpine region, 100 to 150 miles in breadth, fringes the Alpine
north-western border of the plateau beyond the ridges just men- region,
tioned. This constitutes what is called in Eastern Siberia the
taiga : it consists of separate chains of mountains whose peaks rise
from 4800 to 6500 feet above the sea, beyond the upper limits of
forest vegetation (the goltsy) ; while the narrow valleys afford diffi-
cult means of communication, their floors being thickly covered
with boulders, or else swampy ; the whole is clothed with thick
impenetrable forests. The orography of this alpine region is very
imperfectly known ; but the chains have a predominant direction
from south-west to north-east. They are described under different
names in Siberia : the Altai Mountains (see TOMSK) in Western
Siberia, which also belong to this category, the Kuznetskiy Ala-tau
and the Us and Oya Mountains in West Sayan (see YENISEISK),
the Nijne-Udinsk taiga or gold-mine district, several chains pierced
by the Oka river, the Kitoi Alps in East Sayan, the mountains of
the upper Lena and Kirenga, the Olekminsk gold-mine district,
and the yet unnamed mountains which protrude north-east between
the Lena and the Aldan.

A broad belt of elevated plains, ranging between 1200 and 1700 Elevated
feet above the sea, extends beyond these alpine regions. These plains,
plains, which are entered by the great Siberian highway about
Tomsk 6 and extend farther in a south-westerly direction, fringing
the Altai Mountains, are the .true abodes of Russian colonizers ;
they are fertile for the most part, although sometimes dry, and are
rapidly being covered with Russian villages. About Kansk in
Eastern Siberia they penetrate in the form of a broad gulf south-
eastwards as far as Irkutsk. Those on the upper Lena, having a
somewhat greater altitude and being situated in higher latitudes,
are almost wholly unfitted for agriculture. The north-western
border of these elevated plains cannot yet be determined with
exactitude. In the region between Viluisk (on the Vilui) and
Yeniseisk a broad belt of alpine tracts, reaching their greatest ele-
vation in the northern Yeniseisk taiga (between the Upper and the
Podkamennaya Tunguzka) and continued to the south-west in lower
upheavals, separates the elevated plains from the lowlands which
extend towards the Arctic Ocean. In Western Siberia these high
plains seem to occupy a narrower area towards Barnaul and Semi-
palatinsk, and it is difficult to say whether they are separated by
an abrupt slope from the Aral-Caspian depression.

Farther to the north-west, beyond these high plains, we find a Northern
broad belt of lowlands extending as far as the Ural Mountains lowlands,
and the Arctic Ocean. This vast tract, which is now only a few
dozen feet above the sea, and most probably was covered by the sea

Online LibraryThomas Spencer BaynesThe encyclopaedia britannica; a dictionary of arts, sciences, and general literature (Volume 22) → online text (page 1 of 309)