Europe's severe drought is unearthing ancient artifacts from 'Spanish Stonehenge' to Emperor Nero's bridge




  • In Science
  • 2022-09-17 10:45:00Z
  • By Business Insider
The Dolmen of Guadalperal, also known as \"Spanish Stonehenge\" is seen above the water level at the Valdecanas reservoir, on July 28, 2022.Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
The Dolmen of Guadalperal, also known as \"Spanish Stonehenge\" is seen above the water level at the Valdecanas reservoir, on July 28, 2022.Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images  
  • Receding water levels due to drought in Europe are unearthing old sites and artifacts.

  • In August, 47% of Europe was in drought warning conditions, according to the Global Drought Observatory.

  • Droughts are becoming more frequent and severe in many parts of the world, according to climate reports.

An intense ongoing drought is shrinking, lakes, streams, and reservoirs across Europe. One unexpected side effect: It's revealing long-submerged traces of the past.

Since early 2022, Europe has experienced an extended period of unusually high temperatures and severe lack of rainfall. By August, 47% of the continent was in drought warning conditions, which are marked by a lack of soil moisture and negative effects on vegetation, according to the Global Drought Observatory. Andrea Toreti, a senior researcher at the European Commission's Joint Research Center, told Sky News in August that the drought could be Europe's worst in 500 years.

A growing body of research, including the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, suggests droughts like the one sweeping Europe are becoming more intense as climate change pushes temperatures to new extremes.

From megalithic monuments to ancient bridges, sites and artifacts continue to be unearthed by the 2022 drought in Europe.

A prehistoric 'Spanish Stonehenge' reemerges in a reservoir in Spain

The Dolmen of Guadalperal, which is normally underwater, in Spain
The Dolmen of Guadalperal, which is normally underwater, in Spain's Valdecanas reservoir during a drought, on July 28, 2022.Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images  

In late July, receding water levels in Spain's Valdecanas reservoir dropped to 28% percent of its capacity, revealing the Dolmen of Guadalperal, dubbed "Spanish Stonehenge," Reuters reported.

"It's a surprise, it's a rare opportunity to be able to access it," Enrique Cedillo, an archaeologist from Madrid's Complutense University, told Reuters. Cedillo wants to study the resurfaced monument before it is once again underwater.

The Dolmen of Guadalperal is made of dozens of megalithic stones is believed to date to 5000 BC. It was discovered by a German archaeologist in 1926 and is normally underwater thanks to the creation of the reservoir in 1963. Since then, it has only become fully visible four times.

"All my life, people had told me about the dolmen," Angel Castaño, president of local cultural association Raíces de Peralêda, told Atlas Obscura in 2019, when the monument last emerged due to low water levels. "I had seen parts of it peeking out from the water before, but this is the first time I've seen it in full. It's spectacular because you can appreciate the entire complex for the first time in decades."

Extreme drought conditions unearthed hunger stones etched with warnings

A view of the
A view of the 'hunger stone,' which dates back to 1616.  

In August, The Miami Herald reported that centuries-old boulders, known as "hunger stones," reappeared as rivers in Europe ran dry due to drought conditions.

One such stone reemerged on the banks of the Elbe River, which begins in the Czech Republic and flows through Germany. The boulder dates back to 1616 and is etched with a warning in German: "Wenn du mich seehst, dann weine" - "If you see me, weep," according to a translation from 2013 study.

In the study, a team of Czech researchers wrote that these boulders were "chiselled with the years of hardship," adding, "the basic inscriptions warn of the consequences of drought."

"It expressed that drought had brought a bad harvest, lack of food, high prices and hunger for poor people," researchers wrote. "Before 1900, the following droughts are commemorated on the stone: 1417, 1616, 1707, 1746, 1790, 1800, 1811, 1830, 1842, 1868, 1892, and 1893."

WWII-era shipwreck and bombs found in Italy's shrinking Po River

A WWII-era barge that reemerged in Italy
A WWII-era barge that reemerged in Italy's Po River, seen on July 27, 2022.Nicola Marfisi/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images  

Italy's Po River - the country's largest - is facing its worst drought in 70 years. In June, receding water levels due to the intense drought resurfaced a sunken shipwreck of a World War II-era barge.  The 160-foot barge, known as the Zibello, transported wood during the World War II, and sank in 1943, reported CBS News.

Unexploded bombs from WWII are seen on dry waters in Italy
Unexploded bombs from WWII are seen on dry waters in Italy's Po river on August 4, 2022.  

In late July, fishermen stumbled on a previously submerged 1,000-pound bomb from World War II along the  drought-stricken Italian river, according to Reuters.

"The bomb was found by fishermen on the bank of the River Po due to a decrease in water levels caused by drought," a local official told Reuters. Roughly 3,000 people living nearby were evacuated so the bomb could be safely removed by military experts.

Ancient imperial bridge revealed in Italy's Tiber River

The ruins of the ancient Roman Neronian bridge, emerge from the river bed of the Tiber river, in Rome, Monday, Aug. 22, 2022.
The ruins of the ancient Roman Neronian bridge, emerge from the river bed of the Tiber river, in Rome, Monday, Aug. 22, 2022.  

Severe drought in August also unearthed a bridge reportedly built during Roman Emperor Nero's rule in the first century. The bridge is usually submerged under the waters of Italy's Tiber River.

According to Anthony Majanlahti, a historian, the bridge is believed to have had four piers originally, but two were dismantled in the 19th century. One of the bridge's piers can often been seen during the driest parts of the year. This year, however, two are visible, according to The Associated Press.

"Because the water level of the river is so low now due to widespread drought across Italy, we're able to see a lot more of the piers of the bridge that we usually could," Majanlahti told The Associated Press.

Once-flooded Spanish village is unearthed

Overview of the ancient village of Aceredo that had been submerged in Spain.
Overview of the ancient village of Aceredo that had been submerged in Spain.  

This spring, a once-submerged village reemerged in Spain after a drought drained a dam on the Spanish-Portuguese border. The village of Aceredo in Spain's northwestern Galicia region was flooded in 1992 to create the Alto Lindoso reservoir, and the recently unveiled ruins are attracting tourists wanting to see the ancient village after decades underwater.

But some locals say it's a concerning sign of what's to come in a warming world.

"It's as if I'm watching a movie. I have a feeling of sadness," Maximino Perez Romero, a 65-year-old from the area, told Reuters. "My feeling is that this is what will happen over the years due to drought and all that, with climate change."

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