1902 Encyclopedia > Yakutsk

Yakutsk, Eastern Siberia

YAKUTSK, a province of Eastern Siberia, which includes nearly the whole of the basin of the Lena, and covers an area of 1,517,127 square miles (nearly one-third of Siberia and almost one-fifth of the entire Russian empire). It has the Arctic Ocean on the N., Yeniseisk on the "W., Irkutsk, Transbaikalia, and Amur on the S., and is separated from the Pacific (Sea of Okhotsk) only by the narrow Maritime Province (see vol. xxii. pi. I.).
The Vitim plateau, from 2500 to 3500 feet in altitude, Physical and bordered on the south-east by the Stanovoi Mountains, features, occupies the south-eastern portion of the province. Its moist, elevated valleys, intersected by ranges of flat, dome-shaped hills, which rise nearly 1000 feet above the plateau, are unsuited for agriculture, and form an immense desert of forest and marsh, visited only by Tungus hunters, save in the south-west, where a few settlements of gold-miners have lately sprung up. The high border-ridge of the plateau (see SIBERIA) stretches from the South Muya Mountains towards the north-east, thus compelling the river Aldan to make its great bend in that direction. The ridge is almost entirely unknown, having been crossed by only two geographers at points more than 500 miles apart. The alpine country fringing the plateau all along its north-western border is better known in the south-west, where rich gold-mines are wrought in the spurs between the Vitim and the Lena; and farther north-east it has been crossed by several geographers (Middendorff, Erman, the Siberian expedition) on their way from Yakutsk to the Sea of Okhotsk. The Lena, in that part of its course where it flows north-east, waters the outer base of this alpine region. It is a wild land, traversed by several chains of mountains, all having a north-eastern direction and intersected by deep, narrow valleys, where wild mountain streams flow amidst immense boulders and steep cliffs. The whole is covered with dense forests, through which none but the Tunguses can find their way, and they only by means of marks made on the trees. The summits of the mountains, ranging from 4000 to 6000 feet, mostly rise above the limits of tree vegetation, but in no case pass the snow-line. Summits and slopes alike are strewn with crystalline rock debris, mostly hidden under thick layers of lichens, where only the larch, which sends out its roots horizontally, can find support and sustenance. Birch and aspen grow on the lower slopes; and where strips of alluvium have been deposited in the narrow bottoms of the valleys thickets of poplar and willow make their ap-pearance, or a few patches of grassy soil are occasionally found. These last, however, are so rare that all of them are known to the gold-diggers for scores of miles around their settlements, and hay has to be brought at consider-able cost from the lowlands. All necessaries of life for the gold-diggings have to be shipped from Irkutsk down 1 the Lena, and deposited at entrepots, whence they are

transported in winter by means of reindeer to their desti-nation. A line drawn south-west and north-east, from the mouth of the Vitim towards that of the Atdan, separates the mountain tracts from the elevated plains (from 1500 to 2000 feet) which fringe the highlands all the way from the upper Lena to Verkhne-Kofymsk, and probably to the mouth of the Kolyma. Immense and sometimes marshy meadows extend over those plains in the south-west; farther north mosses and lichens are the prevalent vegetation. The surface is much furrowed by rivers and diversified by several mountain-chains (Ver-khoyansk, Tas-karyktakh, Kolymsk, and Atazeya). Little is known as to the real character of these mountains, although they are figured on maps as isolated ridges shooting north-west from the highlands, between the chief rivers which flow into the Arctic Ocean, Beyond the elevated plains vast tundras, covered with mosses and lichens, stretch to the shores of the ice-bound ocean; only a few trees succeed in the struggle for a miserable existence, though some isolated groups penetrate farther north along the courses of the Lena, the Indighirka, and the Kolyma, almost reaching in the first-named valley the seventy-second degree of north latitude. Northern The Arctic coast is indented by several bays—Borkhaya coast. an(j Yana to the east of the wide Lena delta, and Omul-yakh, Kotyma, and Tchaunskaya still farther to the east. Islands have been explored as far as 78° N. lat. These fall into three groups,—the Lyakhovskiye, the Anjou or New Siberian, and the De Long Islands. The Medvyezhie (Bear) Islands off the Kolyma and the two Ayun Islands in Tchaunskaya Bay are merely littoral. Wrangel's Land seems to be the outer island of a great and as yet unknown archipelago. The entire coast of Yakutsk is full of memorials of the courageous explorations made in 1735-41 by Minin, Lapteff, and Prontchischeff in small boats, with-out any of the modern appliances for Arctic explorations, and Tchaunskaya Bay recalls the loss of ShaiaurofFs ex-pedition. The prospects of regular navigation recently raised by Nordenskj old's bold circumnavigation of Asia seem unlikely to be fully realized, the ice apparently having never again been in so favourable a condition as in 1878-79. Every year, however, a narrow passage close by the coast is left almost free of ice, enabling a ship or two to reach the estuary of the Yenisei, or even the delta of the Lena.
Rivers. The great artery of Yakutsk, the Lena, rises on the western slope of the Baikal Mountains, its sources being separated only by a narrow ridge from the great Siberian lake. It soon issues from the mountain valleys, and flows over the elevated plains, where it has carved a deep channel between horizontal layers of Old Red Sand-stone and further on of contorted beds of limestone. As far as Yakutsk it maintains its north-eastern direction, with but one great bend in 60° N. lat. and several small windings in its upper course. At Katchug—a lading-place 180 miles north-east from Irkutsk—it is still shallow, but soon becomes a mighty stream of much beauty, which is increased by the high crags and mountaius amidst which it has dug its channel. Though thus picturesque, its valley can hardly be called hospitable : the narrow level stretches along the base of the mountains are often marshy, while the raw and wet climate renders agriculture most difficult; the villages are poverty-stricken, and in most of them goitre is endemic. About 60° N. lat. the Lena receives from the right its first great tributary, the Vitim (1400 miles in length), which after a very sinuous course leaves the great plateau below Lake Oron, by a narrow gorge which has not yet been visited by any geographer. It is navigable by steamers in its lower course. The next large tributary of the Lena is the Olekma (about 800 miles), which also rises on the plateau and crosses it from south to north ; it is navigable only in the very lowest part of its course ; higher up, its valley, which offers the greatest difficulties for the traveller, has been utilized as a route only by the Cossack conquerors of Siberia and by one of the mem-bers of the Siberian expedition. The next important tributary, also from the right, is the Atdan (nearly 1300 miles), which first flows parallel to the Lena and then turns north-westwards to join it, itself receiving on the left a large tributary, the Amga. It is navigated from IJst-Maya. The onlylarge tributary of the Lena on the left is the Vilui (about 1300 miles), which has an immense drainage-area on the lower plains, and since 1887 has been navi-gated by a steamer. At Yakutsk the Lena becomes a magnificent stream of more than 4 miles in width, with numerous islands, and this character it maintains for the next 1200 miles of its course, sometimes reaching a width of 17 miles and a depth of 7 to 8 fathoms. It enters the Arctic Ocean by a wide delta, occupying more than 250 miles of the coast-line ; here the river divides into seven or eight principal branches, the chief of which vary from 35 to 65 miles in length, the largest being more than 6 miles broad. The bar, however, has only 8 feet of water, and the Swedish steamer " Lena" had great difficulty in entering from the sea. The lower course of the river is subject to terrible inundations when the ice breaks up on its upper part, whilst at the same time the higher reaches of its lower course are still covered with ice several feet in thickness. Large portions of the banks are then torn away by the enormous masses of ice. The Olenek (1200 miles), which enters the Arctic Ocean to the west of the Lena, is also a considerable river; the Yana (1000 miles), Indighirka (950), and Kotyma (1000) to the east all rise in the mountain region between 61° and 62° N. lat. and flow north and north-east into the Arctic Ocean.
The granites, granitic syenites, and gneisses of the high plateau Geology are surrounded by a variety of crystalline slates, Huronian and and Laurentian ; and vast layers of Silurian and Devonian limestones minerals, and sandstones extend over large areas. Farther north the Carbon-iferous, Chalk, and Jurassic formations are spread over a wide region, and the whole is covered with layers of Glacial deposits in the highlands and of post-Glacial elsewhere. The mineral wealth of Yakutsk is very great; but gold (262,200 oz. in 1884) and salt (obtained from springs to the amount of about 6000 cwts. annually) only are worked. Coal has been recently discovered on the Vilui close by its mouth, as also on the lower Lena.
Though there are spots in the North-American archipelago and Climate, in northern Greenland where the cold is as intense as at Yakutsk, no region can be named which has such extremes of cold and heat or winter temperatures so low, so long continued, or spread over so immense an area. Verkhoyansk on the Yana (67° 34' N. lat. and 134° 20' E. long.) is, in respect of cold, the pole of the Old World ; nowhere, even in Siberia, do we find such low winter tem-peratures : from whatever quarter the wind may blow it cannot fail to bring a warmer temperature to Verkhoyansk. Frosts of - 76° Fahr. have been observed there, and the average temperature of the three winter months is - 53°-l; even that of March is but little above the freezing-point of mercury ( - 37°'9). Neither TJst-Yansk (70° 55' N. lat., but close to the sea coast), nor Yakutsk, nor even the polar station of Sagastyr at the mouth of the Lena (73° 23' N. lat.), has a winter so cold and so protracted. And yet at Sagastyr temperatures of — 63°'6 were measured in February 1883, and the average temperature of that month was only — 43°'6. At Yakutsk the average temperature of the winter is - 40°'2, and the soil is frozen to a depth of 600 feet (Middendorff). Even at a depth of 382 feet the temperature of the soil is 26°'4 Fahr. For further particulars, see SIBERIA, vol. xxii. p. 6. 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. While 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, and even less in the north.
In spite of the rigours of its climate, the province of Yakutsk Popula-had 243,450 inhabitants in 1883, and the population is supposed tion. to be increasing notwithstanding the infectious diseases which some-times sw-eep away whole villages. The Russians constitute but a trifling element in the population ; and their villages, numbering scarcely twenty, are chiefly peopled by exiled Nonconformists, be-longing to the sects reputed "dangerous." In 1879 there were 5400 exiles living in the towns or settled in the Yakut encamp-ments, 5300 peasants (also formerly exiles), 1890 military, and 4100 artisans, merchants, and officials. The remainder were chiefly Yakuts (211,900), and partly Tunguses (10,400), with a few Yuka-ghirs, Lamuts, and Tchuktchis. The Yakuts belong to the Turkish stem (see vol. xxiii. p. 661), and speak a dialect of Turkish, with an admixture of Mongolian words. They call themselves Sokha (pi. Sokhalar), their present name having been borrowed by the Russians from the Tunguses, who call them Yeko or Yekot. Most probably they formerly inhabited southern Siberia, and especially the upper Yenisei, where a Tartar stem calling itself Sakha still remains in Minusinsk. They are middle-sized, have dark and rather narrow eyes, a broad flat nose, thick black hair, and almost no beard, On the whole they are healthy and reach an advanced age, are very laborious and enterprising, and display in schools much more intelli-gence than the Tunguses or Buriats. Their implements show a great degree of skill and some artistic taste. They live in log yurtas with small windows, into which plates of ice or pieces of skin are inserted instead of glass. A large fire is kept continually burning in the middle of the yurta, which always has a wooden chimney. The yurtas are usually at some distance from one another, but at the same time are grouped into villages or naslegs. During summer

they abandon their wooden dwellings and encamp in conical tents, consisting of a few poles covered with prepared birch bark. Their food is chiefly flesh, and their drink koumiss. Though nearly all are nominally Christians, they retain much of their original Shaman-ism. Their settlements, which formerly were limited to the valleys of the Lena and its northern tributaries, are now steadily advancing southwards into the hunting domains of the Tunguses, who give way before the superior civilization of the Yakuts. Wherever they penetrate, even in the valleys at the base of the Vitim plateau (Muya, Tchara), they always cultivate some barley, and carry on some trade.
Occupa- Both the Russians and the Yakuts carry on some agriculture tions. wherever possible in the southern parts of the province ; it was estimated in 1879 that 40,000 quarters of barley, summer rye, wheat, and oats were cropped in Yakutsk (23,000 quarters by the Yakuts). But cattle-breeding is the chief means of support; in 1879 there were in Yakutsk 130,400 horses of an excellent small, but most hardy breed, 260,900 cattle, 49,000 reindeer, and several thousands of dogs, which are used for travelling purposes. The hunting of the wild reindeer affords the chief means of subsistence in the tundras ; wealth or famine depends upon its success or failure. The herds are attacked on the routes they pursue during their migrations, especially where they have to cross a river. Farther north the pursuit of water-birds, which come in innumerable flocks to breed on the lakes of the tundras and the shores of the ocean, is a most important resource. Fishing also is carried on even in winter from beneath the ice. The mountains between the Lena and the Vitim have, during the last thirty years, become a most important centre of gold-washings, and, notwithstanding the diffi-culties of communication, and the necessity of bringing every-thing from Irkutsk or Transbaikalia, the population of the gold-mines of the Olekma and Vitim numbered more than 13,000 in 1882. Thousands of workmen go every spring down the Lena to work at the mines and return to their villages in autumn. Com- The principal channel of communication in Yakutsk is the Lena, munica- As soon as the spring arrives, scores of boats are built at Katchug, tion and Verkholensk, and TJst-Ilga, and the goods brought on sledges in trade. winter from the capital of Eastern Siberia, including considerable amounts of corn and salt meat, are shipped down the river. Steamers ply all along its course, and enter its tributary, the Vitim, which is navigated almost to the gorges beneath Lake Oron. A few steamers descend to the delta of the Lena, and return with cargoes of fish and furs. There are very few overland routes. A new one, available for the transport of live stock from Transbaikalia to the gold-mines of Olekma, was opened in 1869, and cattle are brought every year from Transbaikalia, notwithstanding the hardships of the 700 miles' route across the plateau and the wild mountain tracts. Two other routes, also mere footpaths, on which travellers and goods are transported on horseback, radiate from Yakutsk to Ayan and to Okhotsk. Manufactured goods and groceries, chiefly tea, rice, and sugar, were imported to Yakutsk by the former route to the amount of some 1000 cwts. in 1883 ; these goods cross the Stanovoi Mountains and the plateau on sledges as far as the Maya, whence they are shipped to Yakutsk.
The province is divided into five districts, the chief towns of
which are—YAKUTSK (see below), Sredne - Kotymsk (560), Olek-
minsk (500), Verkhoyansk (290),and Viluisk (390). Except Yakutsk,
these "towns" are but miserable villages. (P. A. K.)
YAKUTSK, capital of the above province, situated in 62° 2' N. lat. and 129° 44' E. long., 1800 miles to the north-east of Irkutsk, was founded by Cossacks in 1622. It stands on a branch of the Lena, Khatystakh, between which and the main river, five miles distant, lie several low islands. During the break-up of the ice the water of the Khatystakh, finding no outlet into the Lena on account of the huge masses of ice, rises and floods the lower parts of the town, leaving after its subsidence great pools, which, as well as Lake Tatoye close by, become a source of infectious disease. The town is, however, pro-tected to some extent by a wooden embankment. The old fort is now destroyed, but its five wooden towers, erected in the 17th century, are still standing. The streets are unpaved, and the wooden houses are built upon high base-ments to protect them from the inundations. The shops only are of stone. There are in Yakutsk a cathedral, three churches, a monastery, two gymnasia for boys and girls, and several elementary schools. It is the residence of the
Russian governor and the provincial authorities, as well as of a few wealthy merchants, who carry on trade in furs, mammoth bone, and reindeer hides, which are ex-ported to Russia, and in imported groceries and manu-factured goods. The arrival of the latter gives occasion to a fair in July, which is frequented by natives from all parts of the province ; the returns are estimated at about £450,000. The population was 5290 in 1885.

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