Centuries-Old Carvings Emerge From River – And Their Message Is Depressing


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockAug 24 2018, 12:31 UTC

A hunger stone emerging from Elbe River in the Czech Republic. Norbert Kaiser/Wikimedia Commons

In centuries gone by, if you saw carved rocks emerge from the Elbe River you had a very tough time ahead of you. Well, at risk of sounding dramatic, they have reappeared once again this summer – eek! 

The carved “hunger stones” can be found in the Elbe River near the northern Czech Republic town of Decin, not far from the German border.


Of course, their ominous foreshadowing is not magical hocus-pocus, it’s just simple science. At times when the river's water levels drop, namely as a result of drought, the forbidding stones steadily emerge from the water. A long time ago, this would prompt people to start stockpiling food and praying for rain.

As reported by The Associated Press, an unprecedented number of the stones have re-emerged once again in light of the scorching drought that has hit Europe this summer.

One of the stones is chiseled with an ominous German inscription that reads: “When you see me, cry.” A later Czech inscription reads: “Don't cry, girl, don't fret. When it's dry, just spray your field wet.” Others stones feature watermarks detailing the dates of previous droughts, the earliest of which occurred in 1417.


"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," researchers wrote in a 2013 study about droughts throughout Czech history.

The stones are believed to be the oldest hydrological monument in central Europe. Ever since the construction of a nearby dam in 1926, some of the stones can typically be seen for up to 126 days every year. However, the water level of the River Elbe has reached a historic low over the past few weeks, causing at least 12 of these warning stones to emerge from its depths.

Through history, this part of Europe has been no stranger to droughts. A study from 2015 looked at tree rings to discover that Central Europe suffered relentless “megadroughts” in the 11th and mid-15th centuries CE. So it’s perhaps no surprise this simple and effective method was developed by locals to prepare them for any hard times ahead. 

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  • europe,

  • history,

  • drought,

  • droughts,

  • Czech Republic,

  • hunger stones