altai north south west miles mountains feet region east alpine
TOMSK, a government of Western Siberia, extending from the Chinese frontier to 60° N. lat., is bounded by Tobolsk on the N.W., by Yeniseisk on the N.E., by the Chinese province of Khobdo on the S.E., and by Semipalatinsk on the S.W. Its area, 329,040 square miles, is fully one and a half times that of France. The surface is most varied, including in the south-east the high alpine tracts of the Altai Mountains, with an elevated steppe which skirts these, and in the north-west and west the lowlands of the Irtish and the marshy tracts of the Ob.
The Altai Mountains, which cover within the limits of the Russian empire an area of 53,000 square miles, or three times that of the whole of Switzerland, although visited by many geologists, still remain very imperfectly known, even as regards their orography. The country has been mapped only along the rivers and the course of a few footpaths, and great confusion still prevails with reference to the directions of the different chains of the Altai and their mutual relations (compare SIBERIA) The best descriptions, however (including the most recent by M. Potanin),1 indicate in that part of Asia the very same leading orographical features that are seen in the Tian-Shan Mountains farther south, and in the West Sayan range farther north. A plateau with an average altitude of more than 4000 feet, watered by the tributaries of the upper Yenisei, all flowing in open valleys 3000 to 4000 feet above the sea, is known to rise in that part of north-western Mongolia which is drained by the upper Yenisei and Selenga. The surface of this plateau is diversified by ridges, and by depressions like that of the Ubsa-nor - a relic of what was formerly a much larger lake. A lofty mountain chain, which has its south-east foot on the plateau and its north-west foot in the valley of the Us, fringes the plateau, and has all the characters of a border-ridge. The present writer has proposed to call this Erghik-shan. It runs from north-east to south-west along the Russo-Chinese frontier, and is pierced by a deep gorge through which flows the Yenisei. A belt, some 200 miles in width, of alpine tracts, made up of three or four chains parallel to the border ridge, fringes the outer border of the plateau, and fills up the Minusinsk region. The structure of the hilly tracts (watered by the Kemtchik) between the Yenisei and the Altai remains quite unknown, no scientific man or topographer having ever visited it. But the very same orographical features as those already described reappear in the Altai region. There is now no doubt that the backbone of the Altai is a huge and lofty border-ridge, the Sailughem, which includes the small alpine plateaus of Ukek, the upper Tchuya, and Juvlu-kul, and runs from south-west to north-east, being a continuation of the border-ridge of the West Sayan. Its flat dome-shaped summits rise to about 10,000 feet, and the small alpine plateaus just named range from 7800 to 8200 feet in elevation. It has a very steep slope towards the northwest, i.e., towards the broad valleys of the upper Bukhtarma and Tchuya, and a very gentle slope towards the south-east, and its south-eastern hillfoots are on the level of the plateau of Khobdo (from 4500 to 5000 feet). A broad alpine region spreads to the north-west of the border-ridge, but in the imperfect state of our knowledge it is difficult to discriminate the real directions of its chains. Nevertheless, another lofty chain, containing the snow-clad Alps of the Katuil (Katunskiye Byetki) and those of the Tchuya, and running also from south-west to north-east, parallel to the Sailughem border-ridge, can be distinguished in the labyrinth of confusedly scattered mountains seen on our present maps. It is one of the most picturesque chains of the region, and contains the Byelukha peak, estimated at 11,000 feet, and the Alas-tu, of nearly the same height. It is pierced, however, by so many rivers, which rise on the north-west edge of the plateau, and find their way to the lowlands by a series of gorges, that its continuity could be easily overlooked. Farther to the north-east it joins, in the opinion of the present writer, the high chain on the left bank of the Kemtchik, which is continued by the picturesque Alps on the northern bank of the Us. A third system of mountain chains, also parallel to the above, can be distinguished in the succession of the Terektinsk Mountains, those which are pierced by the Tchulyshman and those which follow the right bank of the Abakan ; while traces of a fourth plication of the rocks may be discovered in the Tigeritsk Mountains, those pierced by the Biya below Lake Teletskoye, and the Kuznetskiy Atatau, on the left bank of the Abakan. A number of smaller, much lower, and shorter chains faintly appear as outer walls of this extensive alpine region. As for the Great Altai, or Altain-Nauru, our knowledge of which has been greatly increased by the recent explorations of M. Potanin,1 it may be regarded as a south-western border-ridge of the Khobdo plateau, with its steep slope facing towards the wide Dzungarian depression, or rather to the broad trench of the Ulungur. Its direction is nearly at right angles to the above, running from northwest to south-east, like the Tarbagatai Mountains (see TURKESTAN), and it is continued farther to the south-east by the Irdyn-ula and Artsa-bogdo Mountains, which separate the eastern Gobi from the Tarim depression. It is most probable that upheavals, having the same northwestern direction (which, according to M. Mushketoff, are in Central Asia more recent than the north-eastern ones), have to a certain extent modified the old north-eastern chains of the Altai, and complicated the chains of its alpine region. If so, the structure of the Altai would be very similar to that of the Turkestan mountains. A chain having a north-western direction - the Salair Mountains - shoots off from the main ranges of the Altai, between the Tom and the Tchumysh ; it is about 170 miles in length, with a width of nearly GO miles, and contains the best silver-mines of the region, as also several gold-washings. lts upheaval belongs to a more recent epoch than that of the Sailughem ridge, and (like the mountains of Turkestan, having a north-west direction) it is due to dioritic rocks. In the Kuznetsk depression it is covered with deposits of the Lower and Upper Carboniferous, containing beds of coal. The Kuznetskiy Atatau, in which Humboldt saw one of his meridional upheavals, consists of a series of ridges running south-west to north-east, with further continuations within South Yeniseisk.2 The alpine region of the Altai is most picturesque ; most of its chains, rising over 8000 and 9000 feet, are snowclad, and a great glacier descends from the hollows under the Byelukha peak ; several other less known glaciers occur in the different " by etkis" (snowelad chains). A thick forest vegetation clothes the mountain slopes, while beautiful valleys, often of great length, such as that of the Bukhtarma. (180 miles) or that of the Uimon and Koksu, offer on their fertile and well-sheltered floors most favourable conditions for agriculture. Several lakes arc met with, some, like the Juvlu.kul and Kendykty-kul on the small alpine plateaus, at heights where only the dwarf birch grows and the polar marmot takes up its abode, while two others, Lakes Kotyvanskoye and Teletskoye, respectively 1170 and 1600 feet above the sea, from their position amidst steep and picturesque mountains, recall those of Geneva and Lucerne.
The Altai flora is very rich. Although the European flora (including the beech) which clothed the Altai at a recent period has disappeared, and the Siberian flora invades its hillfoots from the north-west, while the steppe flora is advancing from the south, still in a zone ranging from 1000 to 6000 feet above the sea the botanist has to admire a flora rich in bright flowers, tall grasses, and shrubs, several of which are now common ornamental plants in European gardens; and the zoologist discovers in the Altai the meeting-place of the northern fauna (including the reindeer) with that of the high Central-Asian plateau (including the tiger and the two-humped camel of Baetriana).
A strip of elevated plains or grassy steppes, also about 200 miles in breadth, girdles the alpine region upon the north-west. Its outer border can be roughly indicated by a line running north-east from Lake Gorkoye to Tomsk. They have an average altitude of from 700 to 1000 feet above the sea, and are covered with a luxuriant grass vegetation; the conditions for agriculture are excellent, and Russian villages are rapidly springing up. The south-west portion is known as the Kumandinsk steppe. An innumerable succession of small lakes - rivers in the process of formation - cover this steppe, where we have a system of parallel undulations, resulting in tributaries of the Ob, all flowing north-eastward with remarkable regularity.
Beyond the high plains, that is, all over north-western Tomsk, are the lowlands, which may be subdivided into two portions, - the Baraba steppe in the south-west (see TOBOLSK), and the marshy region of the Ob (the Vasyugan and Narym regions). The latter is one boundless marsh, a few settlements of native hunters occurring only along the rivers. The interior is for the most part inaccessible alike to boats and to human feet. Low hills, or rather swellings, intersect it, but even the highest points, barely 200 or 300 feet above the sea, are covered with marshy forests. The forests themselves grow on marshy ground ; but where the trees disappear one sees for hundreds of miles nothing but green flowery carpets, which, when trodden on, treacherously yield under the unwary traveller. Similar in character must have been the marshes in which the Siberian mammoths and rhinoceroses of the Quaternary epoch found their grafes. Only the light and broad-hoofed reindeer, but not the elk, can cross them. This inhospitable region is inhabited only by Ostiaks, who have been driven into it by stress of circumstances, and support themselves partly by fishing and partly by hunting.
The Sailnghem ridge, and the high Khobdo plateau as well, consist of granites, syenites, porphyries covered only with the oldest metamorphic slates belonging to the Archaic formation (Huronian and Laurentian). The structure of the outer chains of the Altai is more complicated. Their backbone is also composed of granites, porphyries, and porphyrites covered with metamorphic slates which are intersected by layers of crystalline limestone; breccias, and veins of jade.3 Diorites, diabases, augitic porphyries, and hypersthenites also appear, but they are of a more recent origin. Silurian clay-slates are widely spread in the southern Altai. Devonian slates and limestones are also developed in the southern Altai, and the metalliferous deposits of Zmeinogorsk, Petrovsk, Riddersk, &-c., belong to that age. Carboniferous dolomitic limestones and slates are widely spread both in the southern and northern Altai. After the Carboniferous epoch the southern Altai was not again submerged, while the northern Altai was covered by the Jurassic sea, and has thick Jurassic deposits containing a copious fossil flora and rich beds of coal. Basaltic eruptions, dating from the Jurassic period, have been found in the Salair Mountains. Thick diluvial deposits cover the whole area, and in many valleys are traces of immense former glaciers ; in fact, the whole of the Sailughem ridge must at one time have been clothed with an ice-cap.4 The southern Altai is rich in silver, copper, lead, and zinc ; while in the Atatau are concealed its chief auriferous alluvial (or diluvial) deposits, iron-ores, and coal-seams. The mineral wealth of the Altai is really immense, but only a very few of the mines already known arc worked. In 1881 4030 lb of gold, 14,820 lb of silver, 13,100 cwts. of lead, 6720 cwts. of copper, 240,000 cwts. of coal, 330,000 cwts. of salt, and 30,000 cwts. of bitter salt were obtained. In the same year only 3000 cwts. of iron were manufactured, and that metal is still imported from the Urals. The jade, beautiful porphyries, and the like of the district, which are cut into works of art at the crown works of Kotyvafi, are well known through the urns and vases shown at the St Petersburg Hermitage. The mineral waters of the Altai are of high quality.
Tomsk is watered mainly by the Ob and its tributaries, only its south-east corner draining into the Abakan, a tributary of the Yenisei. The Ob, formed by the union of the Biya and Katufi, has within the government a course of more than 800 miles, and is navigated as far as Barnaut and Biysk. Its tributaries, the Tom (450 miles), the Vasyugan (530 miles), the Ket (230 miles), and the Tym (200 miles), are all navigable. The Tchutyin and the Tchumysh are also great rivers. Of tributaries of the Irtish, the Buklitarma, the Om, the Uba, and the Tara are worthy of notice. As many as 1500 lakes have been counted on the maps, but this number is exceeded by the reality. Some of them are alpine ; others dot the steppes or the marshy tracts. Lake Tchany, notwithstanding its rapid desiccation, still covers 1265 square miles. Many brackish lakes, Kutundinsk, Kutchuk, &e., attain a great size, and some small salt lakes yield about 100,000 ewts. of salt.
The climate is very severe, and has, moreover, the disadvantage of being very wet in the north-west. The average yearly temperatures at Tomsk, Kainsk, and Barnaut are 30°'2, 31°, and 32°-7 (January, 4°, - 6°'2, and 3°.7 ; July, 65'5, 68°'5, and 62°'2). The Altai steppes, enjoying a much drier climate than the lowlands, are covered with a beautiful vegetation, and in the sheltered valleys corn is grown to heights of 3400 and 4250 feet.
The population, which is rapidly increasing, in 1882 reached 1,134,750. The Russians are in a large majority, the indigenous inhabitants numbering in 1879 only 63,600, or 6.6 per cent. of the aggregate population. They include 23,600 Altaian Tartars, 5730 Teleutes, 17,020 Mountain Kalmucks (see TARTARS), 10,000 Tomsk Tartars, 2920 Samoyedes, and 4210 Ostiaks. The prevailing religion is Greek-Orthodox, but there are also some 50,000 Nonconformists, 7320 Catholics, 2600 Jews, 10,700 Mohammedans, and about 28,000 pagans.
Agriculture is the prevailing occupation. It is most productive on the elevated plains of Tomsk, Mariinsk, Barnaut, Kuznetsk, and Biysk. Cattle-breeding is much developed, especially in the Kutundinsk steppe; and bee-keeping is an important source of wealth. Fishing and hunting are extensively carried on in the forest region. Mining occupies several thousands of men in the Altai. Manufactures are insignificant, the aggregate production - chiefly from distilleries and tanneries - hardly amounting to £250,000. Trade is actively carried on at Tomsk and Barnaut, which are two great centres for the export and import trade of Siberia with Russia. The Biysk merchants carry on exchange trade with Mongolia and China. There are eight gymnasia (696 boys and 569 girls in 1883) and 225 primary schools (5680 boys, 1730 girls). The government is divided into six districts, the chief towns of which (with populations in 1884) are Tomsk (31,380), Barnaut (17,180), Biysk (18,960), Kainsk (4050), Kuznetsk (7310), and Mariinsk (13,090). Narym (1600) also has municipal institutions ; it is the centre for the administration of the wide Narym region. Of the above towns only Tomsk and Barnaut have the aspect of European towns. Barnaut, capital of the mining district of the .Altai, which belongs to the " Cabinet of the Emperor," is a wealthy city, with a mining school and laboratory, a botanic garden, a xnuseutn of mining and natural history, and a meteorological observatory. Kotyvaii, with a stone-cutting manufactory, has 12,250 inhabitants. Several mining villages are more important than the district towns : - Zyryanovsk (silver-mine ; 4500 inhabitants), Riddersk, Zmeinogorsk (6160), Suzunsk (5400), and Salairsk (3500). (P. A. K.)