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Ancient warning stones in Europe: If you see me, weep

As summer approaches the Southern Hemisphere, our European neighbours are starting to breathe a sigh of relief after what scientists are referring to as one of the hottest summer seasons in history.

The brutal heatwave has led to a prolonged drought in Central Europe, which has had an odd side-effect.

In the Czech Republic, rocks locally known as ‘hunger stones’ have begun to reappear on the bed of the Elbe River.

The specially inscribed ‘hunger stones’ are usually buried by the water level of the river, which flows through the town of Děčín, before crossing into Germany and flowing into the North Sea.

With water levels reaching record lows, the rocks and the messages carved into them have been exposed for the first time in decades.

In case you were wondering, the sign of these stones isn’t a good thing. The stones send an important message: water levels are low, and hard times are on their way.

The most famous of the ‘hunger stones’ dates back to 1616.

Currently, more than a dozen of the boulders can be seen on the Elbe River bed. All of them are carved with recordings of low water levels from across history.

The authors of a 2013 paper on the history of Czech droughts wrote that the stones are “chiselled with the years of hardship and the initials of authors lost to history.”

According to Science Alert, an inscription from the year 1616 is etched ominously into the face of the oldest and most famous of these ancient rocks – the “Hunger Rock”.

It reads: “Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine.” In English, that is: “If you see me, weep.” A fitting message, I’d say.

The Czech Republic isn’t the only European country in which these stones are revealing themselves. It is common for such rocks to appear as the water levels of rivers, creeks and lakes fall.

In Germany, stones carry messages such as: “If you will again see this stone, so you will weep, so shallow the water was in the year 1417.”

And “We cried – We cry – And you will cry”. Or even, “Who once saw me, he cried. Whoever sees me now will cry”.

The ‘hunger stones’ that have appeared on the banks of the Decin river.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise the historic importance of water for historic civilisations. It’s safe to assume that the general message from the people of antiquity is that water is life.

[Body Images courtesy of Brázdil and Kotyza (1995) and Norbert Kaiser]