In Brief

Old Stone Drought Warning Resurfaces in Europe: 'When You See Me, Cry'

One of the "hunger stones" exposed by the low level of water in the Elbe river is seen in Decin, Czech Republic
One of the "hunger stones" exposed by the low level of water in the Elbe river is seen in Decin, Czech Republic. (Image credit: Petr David Josek/AP/REX/Shutterstock)

Old stones bearing ominous messages have resurfaced in a river in Central Europe, according to news reports.

Over the course of centuries, Europeans marked low water levels during droughts by carving lines and dates into boulders along the Elbe River, which runs from the Czech Republic into Germany. The idea was that if water levels dipped low enough to reveal an old carving, it would signal to locals that dry, hungry times — similar to those experienced in the marked year — were coming. Over a dozen of these "hunger stones" have reappeared in the Elbe this year, amid a record-setting European drought, the Associated Press reported Aug. 23. [7 Surprising Health Effects of Drought]

And the stones' warnings aren't wrong. Agence France-Presse 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. In Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands, AFP reported, the grain harvest is expected to be down between 30 and 60 percent, depending on the region. 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," according to AFP.

While research indicates that climate change will exacerbate droughts in Europe — and make them more frequent around the world — these stones reveal how dangerous these sorts of events were when they occurred in previous centuries.

The oldest stone carving to emerge was carved in 1616 and is considered the oldest hydrologic landmark in Central Europe, according to the AP.

It "bears a chiseled inscription in German," the AP reported, "that says, 'when you see me, cry.'"

Originally published on Live Science.

Rafi Letzter
Staff Writer
Rafi joined Live Science in 2017. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of journalism. You can find his past science reporting at Inverse, Business Insider and Popular Science, and his past photojournalism on the Flash90 wire service and in the pages of The Courier Post of southern New Jersey.