Prince Yuri Lubovedsky

‘If this desert is a former sea­bed, then the sands must surely contain strata or zones consisting of various shells, and, as shells are formed by organisms, consequently they must be organic matter. Therefore, we have only to find some means of converting this matter so that it can be digested and in this way provide the energy required for life.

‘But if the sands of this desert are drift sands, that is to say, if they are of rocky origin, then again, it has been proved beyond any doubt that the soil of most of the great oases of Turkestan and also of the regions adjacent to this desert is of purely vegetable origin and consists of organic substances deposited there from higher altitudes.

So we can conclude that, in the course of centuries, such organic substances must have drifted into the general mass of sands of this desert and become mixed with it. I further reflected that according to the law of gravity all substances or elements always group themselves according to their weight; therefore, here in the desert, the organic substances deposited, being much lighter than sand of rocky origin, must also have gradually grouped themselves in special layers or zones.

‘Having come to this theoretical conclusion, I organized a small expedition into the desert to verify it in practice, and after travelling three days began to carry out my investigations. I soon found in certain places layers which, although barely distinguishable from the general mass of the sands, were nevertheless even on superficial examination clearly of a different origin. By microscopic examination and chemical analysis of the separate parts of this mixture of substances, I found out that it consisted of the dead bodies of small organisms and various tissues of the vegetable world. Having loaded all the seven camels I had at my disposal with this peculiar sand, I returned here, and with Professor Skridlov’s permission purchased a number of different animals and set to work experimenting on them.

‘I bought two camels, two yaks, two horses, two mules, two asses, ten sheep, ten goats, ten dogs and ten Kerisikis cats, and keeping them hungry, that is to say, giving them a very limited quantity of food, only just enough to sustain life, I began little by little introducing into their food this sand which I had prepared in various ways. For the first few days of my experiments, none of the animals would eat any of these mixtures. But when I began to prepare this sand in an entirely new way, after only a week’s trial the sheep and goats suddenly began to eat it with great pleasure.