‘If you see me, cry’: Drought reveals ‘hunger stones’ in River Elbe historically used to forecast famine

Past societies left us a warning about the outcomes of extreme weather

Liam James
Tuesday 16 August 2022 16:00 BST
Bristol's Avon River reduced to muddy trickle due to heatwave

Ancient stones bearing dire warnings have resurfaced as a lengthy drought grips much of the European continent.

Centuries ago, stones lining dried-up riverbeds were marked to warn future generations that their exposure meant famine was around the corner.

Several European rivers, including the Elbe, Rhine and Wese, retain what became known as “hunger stones”, which bear grim warnings for those unfortunate enough to lay eyes on them.

One stone on the bank of the River Elbe, in the Czech Republic town of Decin, has emerged this year. Noticed recently by German journalist Olaf Koens, it bears the inscription: “If you see me, then weep.”

Some markings date back to the 15th century, Czech researchers found in 2013, and the Decin stone commemorates at least 12 droughts over 600 years.

Europe’s current drought could be the worst on the continent in 500 years and could continue for three months, according to Andrea Toreti, a scientist at the European Drought Observatory.

Hunger stone on the Elbe in Decin, Czech Republic

The drought is expected to end up affecting 47 per cent of Europe and industries are expected to suffer as the continent’s great rivers become so depleted that transportation is affected.

Water levels on the River Rhine at Emmerich, near the Dutch border in Germany, dropped by 1.6 inches in 24 hours on Monday, hitting zero on the depth gauge.

Authorities said the river’s shipping lane was still functional with a depth of around 6ft, but Tuesday’s record-low measurement highlighted the extreme nature of the current drought.

A cargo ship on the depleted Rhine in Duesseldorf, Germany on Monday

Germany’s main industry lobby group, BDI, warned factories may have to throttle production or halt it completely because the water level was making it harder to transport cargo.

Farmers in parts of France have turned to tap water for their livestock as ponds and streams run dry.

Boats lay on the dried lake bed in a port in Velence, Hungary last week

Baptiste Colson, who owns dairy cows and grows feed crops in Burgundy, said his animals were suffering, with the quality and quantity of the milk decreasing.

In the Spanish region of Andalucia, some avocado farmers have had to sacrifice hundreds of trees to save others from wilting as the Vinuela reservoir in Malaga province dropped to only 13 per cent of capacity, down 55 per cent from a year ago.

Europe is not alone in the crisis, with drought conditions also reported in East Africa, the western United States and northern Mexico.

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