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article imageDire message left on stones in Czech river: 'If you see me, weep'

By Karen Graham     Aug 29, 2018 in Science
Ancient ominous warnings carved on usually submerged boulders along the Elbe River had for centuries driven fear into the hearts of Czechs, but their reappearance during this year’s drought is just a reminder of how tough people had it.
Walking alongside the Elbe River today, you can see boulders uncovered by the low water levels. In itself, this might not be so unusual, but these large boulders, called "hunger stones," have carved inscriptions on them marking drought-heavy years in past centuries.
One of the "hunger stones" on the banks of the Elbe was carved in 1616 with the words "Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine": "If you see me, weep." The stone is considered the oldest hydrological landmark in Central Europe.
The Elbe River runs from the Czech Republic into Germany. And for centuries, people have marked low water levels during droughts by carving lines and dates into the stones and boulders along the Elbe River, the same way high water or flood levels are marked today.
The marked boulders in the Elbe were a sort of warning message to future generations that basically said: "if water levels dipped low enough to reveal an old carving, it would signal to locals that dry, hungry times - similar to the date marked on the stone - were coming."
Many of these stones, featuring carvings or other artwork, were erected following the hunger crisis of 1816–1817 caused by the eruptions of the Tambora volcano, while in 1918, a hunger stone on the bed of the Elbe River, near Tetschen, became exposed during a period of low water that was coincident to the wartime famines of World War I, according to research done in 2013.
Hungersteine in der Elbe bei Laubegaster Ufer 26  Laubegast. August 11  2018.
Hungersteine in der Elbe bei Laubegaster Ufer 26, Laubegast. August 11, 2018.
Dr. Bernd Gross
According to the 2013 study, although the names of the carvers have been lost through the shroud of time, the chroniclers were able to clearly tell future generations what to expect if they could see the carved stone. Some of the stones date back to 1090 and 1091 when there was no rain or snow. One hunger stone that dates to 1473 tells of streams dried up. forest fires. poor harvests of cereals and other crops.
What the hunger stones can tell us today
Besides the stones being a tourist attraction, they have also gained the interest of scientists. And it is hard to dismiss the clear warning the stones imply - "If you can read this message - you're in for a rough time." And as we already know, the stones are right.
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Dr. Bernd Gross
According to Live Science, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that northern Europe's current drought has not only brought with it record-setting temperatures and wildfires but also significant threats to local food production.
Across Europe, the grain harvest is expected to be down between 30 and 60 percent. England and France may also be significantly impacted. Farmers in northern Europe might have to send much of their herds to slaughter due to a lack of feed.
And while science today is telling us that the droughts, heatwaves, and extremes of weather we are experiencing will get worse due to a warming climate, the stones reveal how dangerous these sorts of events were when they occurred in previous centuries.
More about Drought, Europe, hunger stones, Science, declining water levels