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How heatwaves and droughts are revealing our ancient past

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Picture: AFP – A stone in Decin, Czechia.

By Dominic Naidoo

Relentless heatwaves and subsequent droughts have swept through most parts of Europe, the United States (US) and Asia, causing uncontrollable wildfires, human and animal deaths, and drying out crops and major waterways.

These record-smashing, sustained high temperatures have caused a myriad of problems for travel, logistics and daily life in general during this year’s northern hemisphere summer season, leaving behind parched rivers and lakes, which have revealed numerous remnants of our ancient world including shipwrecks, centuries old stone markers, ghost villages and even dinosaur tracks, millions of years old.

Ashish Sharma, professor of hydrology and water resources at the University of New South Wales told NBC that “it is an alarming sign of climate change”.

“If you look at the broad picture, it’s pretty clear that higher temperatures are resulting in lower water flows and disappearing lakes and rivers,” he said.

Nearly half of Europe was under “warning” conditions – a severe drought tied with a major deficit in soil moisture, researchers said.

Alarming pictures of a barren River Loire, the longest river in France, made international headlines in August as the country suffered its worst drought on record. Reuters reported two weeks ago that in some areas of the river, within a hundred kilometres from where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean, people can practically walk from one side to the other.

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany’s Rhine became “virtually impassable” at a key waypoint, while the Danube also faced severely low water levels. Germany’s Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration told local media that the Rhine’s depth was forecast to drop to 40cm with some areas of the river predicted to fall as low as 37cm.

A severe drought since June had affected more than 5.7 million people in central China’s Hubei Province, according to the provincial emergency management department, citing a Xinhua news report, with drought conditions triggered by sustained hot weather and low precipitation impacting 84 county-level areas in China’s Hubei Province, according to local media.

Data from China’s Water Resources Ministry shows that the water supply of 830,000 people in six provinces and regions has been affected.

Meanwhile, rivers in multiple provinces and regions across China have dried up due to persistent high temperatures and far below average amounts of rainfall, resulting in drought in many parts of the nation, reports the Global Times.

As drought-hit rivers dry out, they are revealing hidden artefacts, some of which have never seen daylight in hundreds of years.

The drying out Serbian section of the Danube river had exposed a long-forgotten final resting place for dozens of World War II-era sunken nazi warships. The vessels, which emerged near the port town of Prahovo, were part of a Nazi Black Sea fleet that sank in 1944 while fleeing Soviet forces, The Washington Post reported.

The ships were filled with explosives and ammunition with a junior Serbian minister telling the media that there were 10,000 explosive devices in the water. The ships have also made the waterway difficult for fishing and shipping vessels navigating around the wreckage.

Ancient Roman bridges and Spanish ghost villages were again brought to life in Italy as two piers of an ancient bridge once used by Roman emperors became visible at the River Tiber, in Rome, for much of the summer.

Built for Roman Emperor Nero, the bridge was used to reach his gardens near what is present- day St Peter’s Square, The Associated Press reported. It was already falling apart by the third- century, and although one of the piers could be seen in the normal water levels of the driest season, it was rare to see two piers.

Ruins from the abandoned Spanish village Aceredo, found near Spain’s border with Portugal, have also appeared following drought. Walls and windows of several houses appeared to still be intact after years underwater. The village, which became visible in February this year, was deliberately flooded in the 1960s to build a reservoir.

Insider reported in February this year that the village of Aceredo, Spain, which was flooded in 1992 to create the Alto Lindoso reservoir, has now reemerged almost biblically out of the depths as water levels receded to 15 percent of the reservoir’s capacity. Tourists, including some who knew it before it was underwater, are now visiting the ruins of the former fishing village.

Also in Spain, dozens of prehistoric stones have been exposed in another reservoir as water levels dropped to historic lows. Dubbed the “Spanish Stonehenge”; the prehistoric stone circle, officially known as the Dolmen of Guadalperal, sits fully exposed in one corner of the Valdecanas reservoir, in the central province of Caceres, where authorities say the water level has dropped to 28 percent of capacity. In China, the drying up of the Yangtze River revealed three Buddhist statues. Thought to be 600 years old, The statues, identified as being from the Ming and Qing dynasties, are on a submerged island in the southwestern city of Chongqing. One of the statues depicts a monk sitting on a lotus pedestal.

China is facing its worst drought on record, in late August rainfall was 45 percent lower than average in the basin around the Yangtze, which is the world’s third-largest river and a major trade route.

The river has receded so much that many oceangoing ships can no longer reach upstream ports, The New York Times reports. Back in Europe, low water levels revealed carved stone markers, some of which are more than 600 years old and display eerie warnings for future generations.

The Miami Herald reported at the beginning of August that locals said the centuries-old boulders, known as “hunger stones”, reappeared last week as rivers in Europe ran dry due to drought conditions.

One “hunger stone” sits on the banks of the River Elbe, which flows from the Czech Republic into Germany. Business Insider reported that the boulder looks to have been established in1616 and is etched with a warning in German which says “Wenn du mich seehst, dann weine”, a phrase which translates to “If you see me, then weep.”

In a 2013 study, a team of Czech researchers wrote that these boulders are “chiselled with the years of hardship and the initials of authors lost to history”, adding that 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.

In the US, the dried up Paluxy River in Texas exposed dinosaur tracks from 113 million years ago. The fossilised tracks, found at the river in Dinosaur Valley Park near Fort Worth, are thought to be left by the Acrocanthosaurus, a huge theropod that would weigh about 7 tonnes as an adult.

“Most tracks that have recently been uncovered and discovered at different parts of the river in the park belong to Acrocanthosaurus. This was a dinosaur that would stand, as an adult, about 11 metres tall and (weigh) close to seven tonnes,” park spokesperson Stephanie Salinas Garcia told CNN.

Naidoo is an environmental journalist and activist.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.