Dry weather and a severe drought in Europe have caused water levels to recede sharply in the Elbe River, and this is causing large boulders – also known as hunger stones – to reappear once again, with inscriptions of dates and impassioned pleas left behind on them to mark previous droughts, famines, and hardships.
The Elbe River originates in the Czech Republic and winds its way into Germany, and NPR has reported that more than a dozen of these hunger stones can now be seen marking the low water levels of the river.
“Over a dozen of the hunger stones, chosen to record low water levels, can now be seen in and near the northern Czech town of Decin near the German border.”
The oldest hunger stone that has been found so far dates back to 1616 and reads in German, “When you see me, weep.” According to Live Science, this stone is also Central Europe’s most ancient hydrologic landmark.
The idea behind these hunger stones was that Europeans could keep track of water levels during droughts by marking them with boulders. When the boulders became exposed again, sometimes perhaps even centuries later, locals would be warned that hard times were ahead.
These stones recorded low water levels dating back to the 1600s and warn of impending hardships. https://t.co/s8VZLIlmGI— Smithsonian Magazine (@SmithsonianMag) August 24, 2018
According to a study written by Czech researchers in 2013, droughts of the kind being experienced right now in Europe were relatively common if we judge by the many dates recorded on these hunger stones. However, it also goes well beyond drought historically, with the boulders also revealing a chain reaction of bad harvests, soaring food prices, and in some cases, starvation.
“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.”
With regard to the current drought in Europe and Northern Europe especially, it would appear that the hunger stones are correct once again. In Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands, there is reported to be from between a 30 percent to 60 percent decrease in the harvest of grain, which may also affect both France and England as well. In fact, some in Northern Europe may even need to “send much of their herds to slaughter due to a lack of feed.”
New research has suggested that over the course of the 21st century, Europe has witnessed droughts that are “the most extreme droughts driven by precipitation deficits during the vegetation period.”
However, as the numerous inscriptions on the many hunger stones indicate, no droughts in Europe in the 21st century have been anywhere near as bad as those that occurred centuries ago, which caused the plaintive messages to be left behind.