The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia

The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia

The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia

The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia

Excerpt

In their physical manifestation, the high plateaus of Asia bear witness to the most tremendous geological drama in the history of this planet. The upheaval and isolation of this huge continental mass were due to the converging assaults of two great chains of folded mountains formed in two different periods: the Hercynian folds of the T'ien Shan and Altai ranges--the first of these being bordered by the Serindian mass and the second by the ancient Siberian plateau of Angaraland--and the Himalayan alpine folds, which in the Miocene period replaced the ancient "Mediterranean" Sea of Eurasia. The arc of the T'ien Shan and Altai to the northwest, and the opposing curve of the Himalayas in the south, together encircle and isolate Turkestan and Mongolia, leaving them, as it were, suspended above the surrounding plains. Because of their altitude and their great distance from the sea, these regions experience a continental climate of great extremes, with excessive heat in summer and bitter cold in winter. At Urga ( Ulan Bator), in Mongolia, the temperature varies from +38° to -42° Centigrade. With the exception of the Tibetan massif, the great altitude of which produces almost polar vegetation, and also of the semicircular ranges of the Altai and T'ien Shan, which, for similar reasons, have an alpine climate characteristically graded from the forests of the foothills to the sparse vegetation on the peaks, almost the whole of continental Asia is covered by a longitudinal belt of grassy steppes, dormant in winter and dried up in summer. The prairie steppes--fertile . . .

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