Yakutsk, Siberia (Province) - Encyclopedia

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YAKUTSK, a province of E. Siberia, including nearly the whole of the basin of the Lena, and covering an area of 1,530,253 sq. m. It has the Arctic Ocean on the N., the governments of Yeniseisk and Irkutsk on the W., and Irkutsk and Amur on the S., and is separated from the Pacific (Sea of Okhotsk) by the narrow Maritime Province. The Vitim plateau, 2500 to 35 00 ft. in altitude, bordered on the S.E. by the Stanovoi Mountains, occupies the S.E. portion of the province. Its moist, elevated valleys, intersected by ranges of flat, dome-shaped hills, which rise nearly 1000 ft. above the plateau, form an immense desert of forest and marsh, visited only by Tungus hunters, save in the S.W., where there are a few gold-mining settlements. The high border-ridge of the plateau (see Siberia) stretches from the South Muya Mountains towards the N.E., thus compelling the river Aldan to make a great bend in that direction. An alpine country skirts the plateau all along its N.W. margin, and contains productive gold-mines in the spurs between the Vitim and the Lena. The latter stream drains the outer base of this alpine region. It is a wild land, traversed by several chains of mountains, all having a N.E. strike, and intersected by deep, narrow valleys, down which the mountain-streams tumble uncontrolled. The whole is clothed with dense forests, through which none but the Tunguses can find their way. The summits of the mountains, 4000 to 6000 ft., mostly rise above the limits of tree vegetation, but in no case pass the snow-line. The summits and slopes alike are strewn with debris of crystalline rock, mostly hidden under thick incrustations of lichens, amid which the larch alone is able to find sustenance. Birch and aspen grow on the lower slopes; and in the narrow valley bottoms thickets of poplar and willow or patches of grass spring up on the scanty alluvium. All the necessaries of life for the gold-diggings have to be shipped from Irkutsk down the Lena, and deposited at entrepots, whence they are transported in winter by means of reindeer to their destination. A line drawn from the mouth of the Vitim N.E. towards that of the Aldan separates the mountain regions from the elevated plains (1500 to 2000 ft.) which fringe the highlands all the way from the upper Lena. to Verkhne-Kolymsk, and probably to the mouth of the Kolyma. Vast meadows, sometimes marshy, extend over these plains in the S.W.; farther N. mosses and lichens are the predominant vegetation. The surface is much furrowed by rivers and diversified by :mountain-chains (Verkhoyansk, Kolymsk and Alazeya) about the real character of which little is known. Beyond the elevated plains vast tundras, carpeted with mosses and lichens, stretch to the shores of the ice-bound ocean.

The Arctic coast is indented by several bays - Borkhaya and Yana E. of the Lena delta, and Omulakh, Kolyma and Chaun still farther E. The islands fall into three groups - the Lyakhov, the Anjou or New Siberian and the De Long Islands. The Medvyezhie (Bear) Islands off the Kolyma and the two Ayun Islands in Chaun Bay are merely littoral. Wrangel Land seems to be the outer island of a great and as yet unknown archipelago. Every year a narrow passage close to the coast is left almost free of ice, enabling a ship or two sometimes to reach the estuary of the Yenisei, or even the delta of the Lena.

The great artery of Yakutsk, the Lena, rises on the W. slope of the Baikal Mountains, close to Lake Baikal. About 60° N. it receives from the right its first great tributary, the Vitim (1250 m. in length), which is navigable by steamers in its lower course. The Olekma (700 m.) is navigable only in the very lowest part of its course, and the Aldan (1155 m.) is navigated from Ust-Maysk. On the left is the Vilyui (1300 m.), which has an immense drainage area on the lower plains, and has been navigated since 1887. The lower course of the Lena is subject to terrible inundations when the ice breaks up on its upper reaches. The Olenek (1200 m.), which enters the Arctic Ocean to the W. of the Lena, is also a considerable river; the Yana (750 m.), Indigirka (950) and Kolyma (I ioo) all rise in the mountain region between 61 ° and 62° N., and flow N. and N.E. into the Arctic Ocean.

The granites, granitic syenites and gneisses of the high plateau are wrapped about by a variety of crystalline slates, Huronian and Laurentian; and Silurian and Devonian limestones and sandstones extend over vast areas. Farther N. the Carboniferous, Cretaceous and Jurassic formations are spread over a wide region, and the whole is covered with Glacial deposits in the highlands and with post-Glacial elsewhere. The mineral wealth of Yakutsk is very great; but gold and salt (obtained from springs) only are worked. Coal has been discovered on the Vilyui and on the lower Lena.

Yakutsk has unparalleled extremes of cold and heat. At Verkhoyansk on the Yana (6 7° 34' N. and 134° 20' E.), frosts of - 79.5° F. have been observed, and the average temperature of the three winter months is - 53-1 0; even that of March only is little above the freozing-point of mercury (-37.9°).9°). Neither Ust-Yansk (7 o ° 55' N., but close to the sea coast) nor Yakutsk, nor even the polar station of Sagastyr at the mouth of the Lena (73° 23' N.), has a winter so cold and so protracted. And yet at Sagastyr temperatures of - 63.6° have been observed, and the average temperature of February is only - 43.6°. At Yakutsk the average temperature of the winter is - 40.2°, and the soil is frozen to a depth of 600 ft. (Middendorff). The Lena, both at Kirensk and at Yakutsk, is free from ice for only 161 days in the year, the Yana at Ust-Yansk for 105. At Yakutsk only 145 days and at Verkhoyansk only 73 have no snow; the interval between the latest frosts of one season and the earliest frosts of the next is barely 37 days.

The bulk of the inhabitants are Yakuts; there are some 20,000 Russians, many of them exiles, and a certain number of Tunguses, Tatars, Lamuts and Chukchis. The estimated pop. in 1906 was 300,600. The Yakuts belong to the Turkish stock, and speak a dialect of Turkish, with an admixture of Mongolian words. They call themselves Sokha or Sakhov (pl. Sokhalar or Sakhalov), their present name having been borrowed by the Russians from the Tunguses, who call them Yeko or Yekot. Most probably they once inhabited S. Siberia, especially the upper Yenisei, where a Tatar tribe calling itself Sakha still survives in Minusinsk. They are middle-sized, have dark and rather narrow eyes, a broad flat nose, thick black hair and little beard. They are very laborious and enterprising, and display in schools much more intelligence than the Tunguses or Buryats. Their implements show a great degree of skill and some artistic taste. They live in log yurtas or huts, with small windows, into which plates of ice or pieces of skin are inserted instead of glass. During summer they abandon their wooden dwellings and encamp in conical tents of birch bark. Their food is chiefly flesh, and they drink kumiss, or mares' milk. Though nearly all are nominally Christians, they retain much of their original Shamanism. Their settlements are now steadily advancing S. into the hunting domains of the Tunguses, who give way before their superior civilization.

The province is divided into five districts, the chief towns of which are Yakutsk, Olekminsk, Sredne-Kolymsk, Verkhoyansk and Viluisk. Though the production of gold from gold washings has been on the decrease, over 15,000 workers are employed in the Olekma and Vitim gold-mines. Only 43,000 acres are under crops, chiefly barley. Most of the inhabitants are engaged in live-stock breeding, and keep reindeer and sledge-dogs. Fish is an important article of food, especially in the Kolyma region. In the N. hunting is important, the skins taken being principally those of squirrels, ermines, hares, foxes, Arctic foxes, and a few sables, beavers and bears.

The principal channel of communication is the Lena. As soon as the spring arrives, scores of boats are built at Kachungsk, Verkholensk and Ust-Ilginsk, and the goods brought on sledges in winter from the capital of Siberia, including considerable amounts of corn and salt meat, are shipped down the river. A few steamers descend to the delta of the Lena, and return with cargoes of fish and furs. Cattle are brought from Transbaikalia. Two routes, mere horse-tracks, radiate from Yakutsk to Ayan and to Okhotsk. Manufactured goods and groceries are imported to Yakutsk by the former.

See F. Thiess, Das Gouvernement Jakutsk in Ostsibirien, in Petermann's Mitteilungen (1897), and Maydell, Reisen and Forschungen im Jakutskischen Gebiet in Ostsibirien (St Petersburg, 2 vols., 18 951896). (P. A. K.; J. T. BE.)

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