Centuries-old 'hunger stones' resurface in Europe's worst drought in 500 years

With a warning that the future is grim.
Ameya Paleja
Trebbia River.jpg
Dry Trebbia River

iStock/Naeblys 

Intense droughts faced by rivers in Europe have brought to the surface centuries-old "hunger stones" that were carved to warn future generations of tough times ahead, Business Insider reported.

Changing climate has brought to the fore conditions that many aren't familiar with. Temperatures in London soared beyond 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) last month, while temperatures in some parts of the U.S. reached 120oF (49oC). Climate scientists warn that the situation could get worse in the coming months.

For those in Europe, the increasing temperatures over the summer have led to intense drought, one that experts suggest is the worst in the past 500 years. Rivers across the continent have seen their water levels recede drastically, revealing "hunger stones" that warn of a grim future.

What are "hunger stones"?

Hunger stones are a centuries-old practice where stones lining the dried-up river beds were carved to serve as a warning to future generations that a famine was around the corner, the Independent reported. This practice was followed across various rivers in Europe, some even dating back to the 15th century.

Researchers found a similar stone on the banks of the Elbe River that begins in the Czech Republic and flows into Germany. The warning on the stone, written in German, Wenn du mich seehst, dann weine, roughly translates to, "If you see me, then weep." In a study published about the stone in 2013, researchers said that the stone dated back to 1616. It marked multiple instances of droughts that the river had been through before 1900 and how it brought periods of lack of food, high prices, and hunger for poor people, Business Insider said in its report.

The last time these warnings surfaced was in 2018. However, experts fear the current episode of drought in Europe might be the worst the continent has seen in 500 years.

Europe's worst drought in 500 years

According to the researchers at the European Drought Observatory, the current drought is expected to affect 47 percent of Europe, where moisture content in the soil is expected to be in deficit. Another 17 percent of Europe could see its vegetation under stress due to lack of water.

Farmers in France have already turned to tap water to feed their livestock after streams have run dry, while in Spain, farmers had to sacrifice hundreds of avocado trees to save others from wilting after reservoirs' water levels have dipped, the Independent said in its report.

Water levels in the river Rhine hit zero at the depth gauge at Emmerich, near the Dutch border, earlier this week. The river's shipping lane remained functional, though, with the water level at six feet. Factories may have to throttle production or halt it completely, as current water levels make it difficult to transport cargo.

The receding water level in Italy's Po river revealed the shipwreck of a World War II-era barge after revealing a 1,000-pound submerged bomb last month, Business Insider reported.

Climate change is not just affecting Europe; drought-like conditions have also been reported in northern Mexico, east Africa, and the U.S. northwest.

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