This summer, Europe, like many other parts of the world, has experienced record heat, drought, and fires. A study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre suggests the current drought could be the worst in five hundred years (link is a pdf). As rivers and bodies of water have lowered to extraordinary levels, one result is the surfacing of objects previously below the surface: ships, bombs, miscellaneous trash, ancient villages, a two-thousand-year-old Roman bridge that was hidden beneath the Tiber, stone-age megaliths in Spain.
The New York Times reports that “the extreme temperatures have led to lower harvests and strained Europe’s ability to create its own energy supply. They have reduced hydropower in Norway and threatened nuclear reactors in France. Britain banned the use of outdoor hoses after England experienced its driest July since 1935. In Spain, towns in Andalusia have restricted water usage. In Germany, environmentalists are concerned that dried up lakes and rivers in the center of the country threaten the survival of fish and other wildlife.”
Exposure of ancient objects as a result of drying rivers and lakes is not limited to Europe. In Iran a bronze-age city was exposed by the draining of the Mosul Dam reservoir to provide water desperately needed for crops. In China, which has experienced sustained record heat and drought, an island with three ancient sculptures has risen out of the Yangtze River. As a result of drought in Texas, dinosaur tracks that had been hidden for more than a hundred million years have recently been exposed.
Among the objects that have surfaced in European rivers are hydrological landmarks known as “hunger stones” (Hungersteine). Most common in Central and Eastern Europe, these are stones carved with legends that commemorate low water levels — often resulting in crop failures and famine — and serve as a warning to future generations. “These hunger stones,” according to bigthink.com, “are a remarkable meteorological chronicle, from the age before standardized weather observations. Most of the inscriptions date from the 15th to the 19th century. The city archives of Pirna, Germany record a stone with the year 1115 engraved on it, but its exact location is no longer known.”
The featured photo at the top of this page shows the hunger stone near the Tyrs bridge at Decín (Tetschen) in the Czeck Republic. (Photo by Norbert Kaiser, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, adjusted for clarity and tone.) An article in Le Monde cites a 2013 study on the same stone conducted by Czech researchers, which “revealed that numerous dates have been carved on its surface: 1417, 1616, 1707, 1746, 1790, 1800, 1811, 1830, 1842, 1868, 1892 and 1893. According to the researches, they represent the years were (sic) drought caused poor harvests and famine on the banks of the Elbe. On the river’s right bank, in Tuchlovice, a small municipality in the Czech Republic, a ‘hunger stone’ bears this inscription: ‘We cried, we cry and you will cry.’
An inscription in Czech added in 1938, according to the Wikipedia, can be translated as “Girl, don’t weep and moan, if it’s dry, water the field .” But the oldest legible inscription appears to date from 1616. It reads in German, according to the Guardian, Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine: “If you see me, weep.”
Will we listen?