Morbid Medieval messages and historic artefacts resurface during extreme drought in Europe

The Hunger Rock in the Decin region of the Czech Republic bears an ominous warning. Image: Dr. Bernd Gross/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

As Europe is experiencing extreme summer temperatures, droughts have revealed morbid Medieval messages in a dried-up riverbed. The centuries-old warnings are carved in so-called ‘Hunger Stones’, found at various places in Central Europe. The large boulders have been used for centuries to commemorate historic droughts — and their consequences. And the remarkable stones are not the only traces of history resurfacing throughout the continent.

The rocks were used to signal critical low river levels, forecasting famines. One boulder which features markings dating from 1417, is embedded in the large Elbe River. It runs from the mountains of the Czech Republic through Germany to the North Sea. POLITICO journalist Aitor Hernández-Morales tweeted a thread of things uncovered by drought in Europe, including a ‘Hunger Stone’ that reads “Wenn du mich seehst, dann weine”, translated to the ominous “If you see me, weep.”

Years of hardship

The Hajener Hungerstein popped up above the surface of the Weser river in central Germany in 2018. Image: Axel Hindemith/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A team of Czech researchers wrote a study in 2013 on the origin and history of the remarkable landmarks. One of their conclusion is that the stones were crafted through “years of hardship and the initials of authors lost to history.” The basic inscriptions warn of the consequences of the drought: “It expressed that drought had brought a bad harvest, lack of food, high prices and hunger for poor people. Before 1900, the following droughts are commemorated on the stone: 1417, 1616, 1707, 1746, 1790, 1800, 1811, 1830, 1842, 1868, 1892, and 1893.”

It is also not the first time Europe has witnessed extreme draughts in the 21st century. The Associated Press reported on the resurfacing of the Elbe Hunger Stone in 2018, while a local tourist website mentions that the Hunger Rock is visible more often nowadays due to a nearby dam. German rivers such as the Rhine, Mossel and Weser also feature numerous of these kinds of stones.

Historic ships and explosives

Nonetheless, Europe’s current drought can be regarded as historic. Scientists at the European Drought Observatory said that the drought is on track to be the worst one in 500 years. Major rivers such as the Rhine Po, and the Thames are at risk of drying out. DW reported that rivers are “too dry, too low, and too warm”, which has consequences for wildlife, the economy and people.

It also means traces from the past are popping up throughout Europe as rivers continue to dry out. In the Netherlands, multiple shipwrecks resurfaced, while several museum ships ran to the ground, de Erfgoedstem reported. And in the English region of Yorkshire, an ancient Viking village resurfaced, while citizens in the Italian city of Mantua had an unexpected encounter with a 450-kilogram World War II bomb. The explosive was removed and detonated at a safe site, but 3000 people had to leave their homes during the operation.

The Italian army removed the resurfaced WWII bomb on the banks of the Po river. Image: screenshot The Independent

Not only Europe suffers from low water levels. In the United States, Lake Mead’s water reservoir is now at its lowest level since it was filled in 1937, revealing a lot of secrets. For example, a corpse from a mafia murder was discovered, a sunken ship from the Second World War came to the surface and soon the remains of a B-29 plane that crashed in 1948 will probably be visible again. In addition, when the lake was formed in the late 1930s, archaeologists were working in the area. It is quite possible that archaeological finds will surface in the upcoming months.

Source: AP, EDO, Decin Tourism, Miami Herald,

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