This year’s combination of record-breaking low rainfall and blazing summer temperatures has transformed the typically fertile lands of central and northern Europe into dry, cracked earth, and destroyed crops across 12 countries. The ongoing crisis has prompted widespread panic about food insecurity and – given that climate change models predict similar extreme droughts will become more and more common in the future – provided a harsh glimpse of what the “new normal” will look like.
One interesting (and, thankfully, distracting) side effect of this event is that the altered landscapes are revealing long-hidden remnants of our past. In the UK and Ireland, for example, dried-out soil has traced the outlines of where dozens of settlements, forts, and ceremonial structures constructed as far back as the Iron Age once stood.
According to the Associated Press, the latest example of this historical reemergence comes from the central German state of Hesse, where the receding waters of a large reservoir on the Weser river has exposed the ruins of a village known locally as the Atlantis of Lake Eder.
Officially named Berich, the small community was abandoned more than 100 years ago in preparation for the dam’s construction, which was completed in 1914. A bridge that led to the town, spanning the river’s original banks, has also been uncovered.
The Edersee reservoir – reported to be Germany’s third largest – was drained to ensure that the Weser’s water levels remain high enough for shipping.
Unfortunately (because what were the chances that an article on climate change wouldn’t end an ominous note), rising global temperatures are also exposing relics of a different category. Multiple studies have confirmed that melting Arctic permafrost is releasing thousands of once-dormant bacteria and viruses back into the environment; potentially triggering massive die-offs because modern animals have no immune resistance to ancient pathogens. Strains that have not been circulating for several decades – like the Spanish flu or smallpox – would come back first because they are in the upper layers of the frozen soil. But if enough melts, ancient strains with completely unknown effects on humans could emerge.
In 2007, scientists successfully revived an 8-million-year old bacteria that was chilling inside a glacier in Antarctica.