EUROPE AND ASIA: BOUNDARY DELIMITATION

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Опубликовано в библиотеке: 2021-09-23
Источник: Science in Russia, №6, 2011, C.101-109

by Alexander CHIBILYOV, RAS Corresponding Member, director of the Institute of the Steppe, RAS Ural Branch (Orenburg), Vice-President of the Russian Geographic Society

 

From April to October of 2010 a research expedition sent by the Institute of the Steppe (Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences) covered over 18,000 kilometers all the way from Mangyshlak Peninsula of the Caspian in the south to the coast of the Arctic Ocean in the north. Negotiating dales and mountains, the explorers visited the national parks and nature sanctuaries of the Urals. They scaled the most prominent summits of the axial part of the Ural Mountains, Russia's main divide range between Europe and Asia, to ascertain how correct this dividing line between the two parts of the world had been mapped. It has been possible to realize this great scientific project thanks to a research grant donated by the Trusteeship Council of the Russian Geographic Society.

 

TWO PARTS OF THE WORLD ON ONE CONTINENT

 

The very idea about the Europe-Asia boundary is more than three thousand years old and dates back to the times when one set to describing the lands within Egypt, Greece, Rome and adjacent territories. At first the Helenes designated this line along the Pontus Euxinus (Black Sea). Later on the Romans moved it eastwards to Maeotica palus (Sea of Azov), the Kerch Strait and on to the Tanais (the river Don). These borderlines were cited in the works of Herodotus, Polybius, Strabo, Ptolemaeus, and other Greek savants. The Ptolemaean Europe-Asia boundary along the Sea of Azov and the Don persisted up until the 18th century of the Common Era--the authority of this geographer, Ptolemaeus, was great like that. The same picture was reproduced in Russian sources, too--for one, in the translated and compiled editions published in the 17th century and entitled Cosmography.

 

What with the progress of sea navigation and, in particular, after the first round-the-world voyages and the Great Geographical Discoveries of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, people could form an overall picture of the global land area. However, even in the 20th century geographers were not unanimous about the number of continents and whether Europe and Asia were two different parts of the world or two different continents.

 

Yet it is true that by the 19th century scientists appeared to have agreed on that the earth had 7 continents and 6 parts of the world (the Americans making up

 
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The Europe-Asia boundary as visualized by ancient and medieval authors:

 

1-Herodotus (5th cent. B.C.), Hippocrates (5th-4th cent. B.C.), SCYLACUS OFCARYANDUS (4th cent. B.C.), Strabo (Istcent. B.C.-1stcent. A.D.), Dionysius (1st cent. A.D.), Pomponius Mela (1st cent. A.D.), Gaius Plinius Secundus (Major) 1st cent. A.D.), Claudius Ptolemaeus (2ndA.D.);

 

2-Jordan (6th cent. A.D.);

 

3-Eustathios (12th cent. A.D.) and Mercator (16th cent. A.D.).

 

Europe-Asia boundary as suggested by recent time researchers:

 

1-V.Tatishchev (1730s);

 

2-as recommended by the 20th Congress of the International Geographical Union in 1964;

 

3-as proposed by an expedition of the Russian Geographic Society in 2010.

 

 
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but one part of the world). However, following the works of the German naturalist, geographer and explorer Alexander Humboldt (elected to the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences honoris causa in 1818), many scientists united Europe and Asia into a single continent, Eurasia, leaving in just six continents. Seeking to get over such kind of ambiguity, Pavel Voronov, a Russian polar geologist, called attention in the 1960s to the terms "mainland" and "continent", and their correct interpretation. Regarding mainlands and oceans as tectonic structures of the first order, he proved there was a real structural divide between Europe and Asia as two independent tectonic bodies. Pavel Voronov: "Humboldt, who 'closed down' Europe as an independent continent and who gave birth to the synthetic continent of Eurasia during his famous tour of 1829--he did not know yet that the low-mountain Urals that he neglected is like the Caucasus that saddles deep fault systems dissecting the continental crust from top to bottom. But unlike Humboldt we are now well aware of this fact and, consequently, should draw conclusions." Thus, our contemporary Voronov came to the conclusion that the Urals and the Caucasus unite the independent continents of Europe and Asia into one mainland.

 

Another viewpoint is brought forward in a collective work of the RAS Institute of Geography (Geomorpho-logical Regimes of Eurasia; Moscow, 2006). Eurasia, it says, "is a single composite continent formed in the course of long, contradictory processes; the borderline between Europe and Asia--no matter where it is to be traced, be it along deep faults or along the boundaries of other structures of the first order, or on account of historical-geographical, ethnographic and political characteristics--is rather arbitrary and uncertain geomorpho-logically." Still and all, the authors agree that "throughout its geological and geomorphological history Eurasia has seen periods of the continent's desintegration or, rather, its breakup into land and marine areas, and periods of their reintegration. This tendency was particularly conspicuous in the recent period when a new Eurasian continent was taking body and form to replace Laurasia that had broken apart before that." Two principal centers, the Asian and the European, were playing a most important part in this reintegration process. The authors of the monograph thus confirm the relative autonomy of the two subcontinents.

 

The above points of view do not reveal any major contradictions. Both agree that the Europe-Asia boundary is there, and the problem is to what extent it is global.

 

Needless to say, the philosophers of the antique world and of the Renaissance had no idea about tectonic structures and, like Voronov before us, we can only "admire the amazing intuition of mankind that... still at the dawn of history, singled out Europe and Asia as independent bodies".

 

TATISHCHEV OR STRALENBERG: WHO'S FIRST?

 

So, the idea of the Asia-Europe borderline along the Don persisted for many centuries. Yet the medieval Arabian sources mentioned the Ityl (Volga) and the Kama as the divide. Guillaume Delisle, an 18th-century French map-maker who published a world atlas, marked Europe's eastern boundary along the Ob, and his contemporary, lohann Georg Gmelin, an explorer elected to the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in 1727, moved it further eastward, to the Yenisei. Jean Jacques Reclus, a 19th-century French geographer and the author of the voluminous work, Earth and People: Global Geography, was of the same opinion.

 

It was Philipp Johann Stralenberg of Sweden who was the first to mark the Europe-Asia boundary along the Ural watershed. He validated this idea in his book The Northern and Eastern Parts of Europe and Asia published

 
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in 1730. But his priority is challenged by Vassily Tatishchev, a Russian historian, ethnographer and geographer, in the work A General Geographical Description of All of Siberia written in 1736 and published as late as 1950. Visiting the town of Tobolsk in 1720, he says, he suggested that the Europe-Asia boundary passed along the watershed of the Ural Mountains. Tatishchev turns down the older proposals advanced by Herodotus about the Tanais (Don) divide, by the medieval Arabs about the Volga-Kama line and by Delisle pushing it eastward as far as the Ob. Says Tatishchev: "... all these are no good. I think the best natural division between these two parts of the world is along the ancient Riphaei montes [Ural Mountains], or the Tatar Urals named in Russian the Belt."

 

This is how Tatishchev describes the East European confines in his Russian Lexicon (1745): "It would be more decent and natural to draw the boundary from the Vaigach narrows along the Great Belt and the Yaik down across the Caspian Sea as far as the river Kuma and the Taurinaei (Caucasian) mountains..." The author adduces quite a few arguments to support this kind of separation. For one, he tells about different fish species found in the rivers of the western and eastern slopes of the Urals, and about the oak- and nut-trees growing west of the watershed but absent in Siberia. Tatishchev's works certainly provide most cogent bits of evidence in favor of the divide line along the Ural mountain chain. Unfortunately his arguments had no effect on the scien-

 
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tific vision of the day, for they were published more than two centuries and a half later.

 

Meanwhile the controversy ran into a blind alley. There came proposals to give up attempts at delineating the Europe-Asia divide. This idea was first aired by Alexander Humboldt; he maintained there was no Europe-Asia boundary, for Europe was a part of Asia. It would be in place to recall the words of the great Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleyev (1830-1907) that "the separation of Europe from Asia is artificial in every way and in time it may fade away". Pierre Guru, a French geographer, tried to put an end to this long-standing dispute. "Europe is an Asian peninsula, and Asia is an artificial notion," he wrote in his book Adia (1956). "Northern Asia is greatly different from the rest of Asia; its borders with Europe are rather arbitrary and tend to vanish."

 

Commenting on this conclusion, we might as well say: no matter how we call Europe, upgrading its status to an independent mainland, or downgrading it to an Asian peninsula, it is impossible to abolish the traditional historical picture that has endured over thousands of years to become part of universal, global culture. Even if we subscribe to Guru's viewpoint, we would have to agree that the "European peninsula" has a boundary separating it from the mainland and, consequently, this boundary should be identified and ascertained.

 

The 1950s and 1960s saw a peak of activities in pinpointing the main Eurasian divide line. The Moscow branch of the Geographic Society of the USSR became the focal point of discussion. The aim was to do away with all the many interpretations concerning the course of this divide as present in manuals, handbooks and teaching aids. This discord led to "lack of agreement in mapping and estimating the areas of the two parts of the world..." The same was true of textbooks dealing with Europe and this country's European part, on one hand, and with Asia and the Asian part of the country, on the other. The perennial, evergreen questions were still there: Did the Caucasus belong to Europe or to Asia? What was the highest peak in Europe--Mont Blanc or Elbrus? How should Europe be separated from Asia in the Urals, south of this mountain range in particular: along the river Ural or the Emba? If the Caucasus belonged to Asia, where was then its northern boundary? There were queries galore. Even that collective discussion failed to come on top of one of the most difficult and contraversial problems of geography, though the leading scientists of Lomonosov Moscow State University and other higher schools of Moscow were taking part.

 

ALL OF THE URALS

 

Different borderlines have been suggested for the Europe-Asia divide in more than three thousand years of demarcation studies. First, culturological (historical, ethnographic, linguistic, etc.) boundaries. Second, political and administrative ones. Third, landscape and orographic ones, particularly, the axial lines of the main mountain range. And last, the hydrological boundaries, such as valleys of the largest rivers, were seen as natural borders. The culturological, political and administrative borderlines came first. Accordingly, the line of separation kept moving eastwards. Yet this could not go on endlessly.

 
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In the first half of the 18th century, when the borders of the Russian Empire moved as far as the Pacific in the east, and vast tracts of land beyond the Volga and north of the Caspian were mapped, the Ural Mountains and the Yaik (renamed by Catherine II into the Ural River in 1775) came to be regarded as a natural and historical divide between the two parts of the world, Europe and Asia.

 

We suggest only main natural boundaries, namely orographic, major watersheds and river valleys in respect of the Europe-Asia divide problem, what with the culturo-logical borders between the European and the Asian peoples turning fuzzy, and the political and administrative borders recarved time and again.

 

The Ural mountain range holds the key place in so many versions of the European-Asian boundary between the Caspian Sea and the Arctic Ocean. The point is that the Ural chain is Eurasia's only mountain system stretching meridionally and interfering with the overall picture of the sublatitudinal orographic structure of the mainland. The Urals and the Caspian depression to the west have a common submeridional spreading unlike Europe and Asia, characterized by sublatitudinal or diagonal spreading. According to Voronov the geologist, the Ural mountain chain attests to the independence of Europe and Asia as separate continents that--quite "by chance!"--came together in the recent geological period. Hence the presence of the orographical boundary (or meridional zone) between the western and eastern parts of Eurasia. While the northern extremity of this zone terminating on the Kara Sea coast is obvious to all researchers, the picture is different down south: many scientists will move the Europe-Asia divide line to the Yaik (the Ural River), or else to the Belaya (the Kama), or the Samara. And that long before the actual southern extremity of the folded mountain system. Some delineate it along the Volga-Ural watershed (Common Syrt) as far as the Volga in the west. And so forth down the line.

 

Still back in the mid-19th century Alexander Humboldt and Nikolai Severtsev, a Russian zoogeographer and explorer, showed interest in how the Ural chain was connected with the Ust-Yurt plateau across the Mugod-zhary. Humboldt called the Ural Mountains Asia's largest range. He thought it went as far as the mountains of Novaya Zemlya in the north to reach the Mugodzhary and the Ust-Yurt elevation in the south. Whereas the proposed genetic link of the Novaya Zemlya mountains with the Urals was true, the putative extension of the Urals to Ust-Yurt was not confirmed. Severtsev repeated the same error in 1862 in his article "Is Ust-Yurt an Extension of the Ural Range?" Although both scientists did not point to any link between the Ural system and Ust-Yurt, by sheer intuition they would keep looking that way for an extension of the Urals. Today we know it quite well that the Ural mountain system ends in the Shoshkakol range in the south, with Shoshkakol coming up against the ledges of the Shagyrai Plateau (Republic of Kazakhstan) in the district of the Sharkuduk Pass. Sharkuduk is the extension of the chinks (cracks) of northern Ust-Yurt. So should we draw the Europe-Asia line from the northern extremity of the Ural range in the Kara Sea, we will have to bring it to the southernmost point of the same mountain system, that is to the foothills of Ust-Yurt. The conclusions of most of the participants in the controversy--on for as long as three centuries--boil down to the following: the Europe-Asia line should be drawn through major natural reference points. The maps do not show any more conspicuous landmarks south of the Urals down to the Caspian than the northern foothills of Ust-Yurt passing into the northern foothills of the Mangyshlak Mountains (Northern Alatau ridge).

 

It is in this very direction--along the southeastern boundary of the East European (Great Russian) Plain or through the northern foothills of Ust-Yurt and the North Aktau ridge down to the Gulf of Mangyshlak--that it is

 
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proposed to mark the Europe-Asia boundary on the stretch between the southern tip of the Urals and the Caspian Sea.

 

We agree with geographers passing the Europe-Asia divide from Tyubkaragan peninsula along the eastern shore of the Caspian across its water area at the Apsheron peninsula's latitude and further along the Great Caucasian Range as far as the Kerch Strait.

 

BORDER MARKS

 

Exploring the Europe-Asia line, local scientists, naturalists, historians and travelers from other regions are trying to identify and specify its location, above all at its crossings with transportation routes.

 

In 1973 polar explorers, while on their way by boat from Archangel to Dixon, set up an obelisk designating the Europe-Asia borderland mark on the shore of the Yugorsky Shar strait in the polar region near Yugorsky peninsula and the northern extremity of the Ural Mountain system. A similar border mark was put up in the Ust-Kara township on the right shore of the Kara inlet. Both points are located within the Nenets Autonomous Okrug (district) of the Archangel administrative region.

 

Another Europe-Asia obelisk was built on the border of the Komi Republic and the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (district). It stands at the point of the watershed between the river Yelets (Pechora river basin) and the river Sob (Ob river basin). A major route, the Yelets Passage, led to Siberia across Kamen-Ural.

 

The identification of the Europe-Asia boundary on the border of the Komi Republic with the Yamal-Nenets and the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrugs poses as good as no controversies. Yet another post rises near Mount Neroika above the Vuktyl gas pipeline next to the nearby mountain pass.

 

In the Perm administrative area, the first Europe-Asia boundary mark was put up at its northernmost point, at the watershed of the Vishera (Volga river basin), the Loziva (Ob river basin) and the Unya (Pechora river basin). Farther south this line concurs with the administrative border along the watershed as far as Mount Kazan Stone, wherefrom it goes to the territory of the Sverdlovsk administrative region across Mount Konzhakovsky Kamen and Kosivinsky Kamen to Mount Lyalinsky Kamen. Then it passes again through the Perm administrative region, with Mounts Magdalinsky Kamen and Kolpaki as the main reference points. The borderline leaves the Perm region near the railway station Khrebet Uralsky (Ural Range) on the Mining-and-Metallurgical railroad where a memorial stele was raised in 1878.

 

But the very first Europe-Asia borderline post had been set up in the Urals decades earlier, in 1837, on Mount Berezovaya overlooking the former Siberian high road near the town of Pervouralsk. Among other old border obelisks we could mention a chapel near the village of Kedrovka built in 1868 (now on the Kushva-Serebryana motorway). All through the 20th century as many as 30 borderline obelisks were built. In 2002 Yekaterinburg was the venue of an All-Russia practical research conference on the evolution of Yekaterinburg from a small fortress mill to the present Eurasian capital. In their resolution the conferees opted for a divide boundary "within a strip along the watershed of the mountain belt of the

 
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Middle Urals and eastern foothills". This wooly wording befuddled local experts who would put up border marks as tourist brands closer to population centers.

 

In the Chelyabinsk administrative region students of local lore, history and economy designate the Europe-Asia boundary on two stretches. The first one, from the borders of the Sverdlovsk region through Kyshtym, Taganai and the Urenga pass between the towns of Zlatoust and Miass. One of the posts was built in 1892 to the design of Nikolai Garin-Mikhailovsky, an engineer and writer, near the railway station Urzhumka to commemorate the completion of the construction of the Trans-Siberian trunk railroad in this region.

 

The other stretch of the borderline is confined to the Ural River. In the 18th and 19th centuries the Ural was used as a defense line passing along the eastern border of the Orenburg gubernia (province) and comprising several fortresses. By the 1830s this line had lost its significance since the border separating the Orenburg gubernia and the lands of the Orenburg Cossack army from the Kurghiz-Kaisats (Kazakh) camps of nomads moved far to the east. Nonetheless geographical divide marks were put up on the Ural River in the towns of Verkhneuralsk and Magnitogorsk. Their location in these two towns will be in place even if the Europe-Asia borderline is passed along the Irendyk ridge, with the Ural River parallel to it 15 to 35 km away.

 

The Ural River takes its rise in the territory of Bashkiria (the Republic of Bashkortostan). According to some versions, the Europe-Asia boundary descends from the Uraltau ridge toward this headshource and continues along this waterway down to the Caspian Sea. Back in 1968 two obelisks, "Europe" and "Asia", were put up near the bridge in the village of Novobairamgulovo on the Uchaly-Beloretsk highway. During its lowest water level the river under the bridge is 1.5-2 meters wide and about 10 centimeters (25 inches) deep. Hardly a worthy natural barrier for a borderline between two parts of the world! Meanwhile the Irendyk ridge rising from another ridge, Krykty, and traced as far as the Orskie Vorota (Gate) gorge on the Ural is the most prominent boundary of meridional spreading and the extension of the main axis of the Ural Mountains in the territory of Bashkortostan. The watershed line along the mountain range goes on parallel to the Ural river valley 15 to 35 kilometers to the west. Orographically it is more pronounced than the axial part of the Middle Urals west of the city of Yekaterinburg.

 

Local land historians of the Orenburg Administrative region and tourists identify the Europe-Asia boundary exclusively with the Ural. The right bank of this river used to be known as "Samarian" between the 17th and 19th centuries, and its left banks-as "Bukharian". "Europe-Asia" borderline obelisks have been installed on the Ural banks in Orsk and Orenburg, the regional center. City guests can cross the Ural River by cable car and pass from Europe to Asia and back.

 

The historical town of Orsk founded in 1735 as the fortress of Orenburg has more reasons to be considered a Europe-Asia borderland town. In the long run it is this town, not the present Orenburg, that was conceived by Peter I and realized by Ivan Kirillov, its architect and designer, as a "key and gate" to Asia. The Ural River has a direct relation to the Europe-Asia border, for this river cuts across the Ural Mountains at the Orskie Vorota (gate) to flow from Europe to Asia.

 
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In Kazakhstan the town of Uralsk and Guryev claim to be Europe-Asia frontier towns. Border marks have been set up on the banks of the Ural (named by Kazakhs Zhaiyk). Yet according to many other versions, including one recommended by the International Geographical Congress held in London, Britain, in 1964, a significant stretch of the border passes through the Aktyubinsk region. Few people will remember this now. At this point we might as well quote Rostislav Segedin, an Aktyubinsk geologist, who wrote the following in 1992:

 

"It is the Mugalzhar [Mugodzhary] Mountains and Shoshkakol ridge that are the natural extension of the line passing along the Ural range, a line separating Europe from Asia; and the highest point of the pass where the Trans-Kazakhstan [Orenburg-Tashkent] railroad crosses the Mugalzhar ridge is worthy of a symbolic obelisk to be set up there, similar to obelisks that have long been standing on more northern passes of the Ural Mountains."

 

People living on both banks of the Emba have shown little, if any, regard for the hypothetical Europe-Asia boundary often being delineated on this stream lost in the sands and salt-marshes of barren stretches northeast of the Caspian. The Emba has no regular bed below Mount Kulsary in the Atyrausk (Guryev) region, and seldom this river, only in water-rich years, brings its waters to the Caspian across estuaries and overflows.

 

In these past two centuries many scientists have said that the Europe-Asia boundary is not a scientific problem. But we say it again: it is impossible to cancel the "Europe" and "Asia" notions, for they are important objects and attributes of world science and culture, and fundamental components of geographical concepts. The evolution of humankind in time and space erased the territorial confines of Oikoumene and civilization in different parts of the world. Yet certainly the Europe-Asia divide along the Ural Mountains--in various but similar scenarios--will not vanish as long as the present civilization is alive.

 

From the national park Yugtyd Va in the Komi Republic this hypothetical borderline runs through such federal protected natural territories as the preserves Pechoro-Ilychsky and Vishersky in the Perm Territory, Denezhkin Kamen and Visimsky in the Sverdlovsk Region, and the national park Taganai in the Chelyabinsk Region. Lying next to the Europe-Asia boundary are the Baseghi preserve (the Perm Territory), the natural parks Olenyi Ruchyi (Deer Streams) and Reka (River) Chusovaya (Sverdlovsk Region), Ilmen preserve, the national park Zyuratkul, and the national park Turgoyak (Chelyabinsk Region), the South-Ural and Bashkirian preserves (Bashkortostan) as well as a part of the Orenburg preserve (Aitoir steppe, Orenburg Region).

 

Further progress of the string of natural sanctuaries and national parks will give rise to a system of natural reserves over 2,500 km long all the way from the arctic tundra in the north to the Central Asian desert in the south. Accordingly, the Great Urals could get a transborder system of natural heritage, a system holding out good promise for ecological tourism, in extreme conditions, too.


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