When context is key: “Hunger stones” go viral, but news first broke in 2018

A hunger stone in the Elbe River in Děčín, Czech Republic. The oldest readable carving is from 1616, with older carvings (1417 and 1473) having been wiped out by anchoring ships over the years.
Enlarge / A starvation stone within the Elbe River in Děčín, Czech Republic. The oldest readable carving is from 1616, with older carvings (1417 and 1473) having been worn out by anchoring ships through the years.

Tales have been circling across the Web this previous week concerning the re-emergence in sure Czech and German rivers of so-called “hunger stones“—rocks embedded in rivers throughout droughts to mark the water stage and warn future generations of the doubtless famine and hardship to return every time the stones turned seen once more. The protection has been fueled largely by an August 11 tweet noting one stone specifically, inscribed with a dire warning: “Should you see me, weep.”

Hunger stones (hungerstein) are very a lot an actual factor with a protracted and interesting historical past. And Europe is in the midst of a historically severe drought—extreme sufficient that water ranges might certainly be sufficiently low for the stones to re-emerge as soon as extra. However that August 11 tweet and the associated protection are literally rehashing a collection of stories and tales from 2018 when the re-emergence of the starvation stones within the midst of that yr’s excessive historically severe drought in Europe made headlines.

It is hardly an egregious case of misinformation, but it surely does present an illustrative instance of why together with context is so essential within the digital age—even in a comparatively easy tweet enthusing about newly acquired information.

The stone referenced within the August 11 tweet is positioned on the Elbe River in Děčín, Czech Republic. One of many oldest such landmarks within the area. The earliest readable inscribed date is 1616, however, older carvings mark the droughts of 1417. And 1473 had been worn out by anchoring ships over the centuries. Different drought years carved within the stone embody 1707, 1746, 1790, 1800, 1811, 1830, 1842, 1868, 1892, and 1893. It is truly doable to see this explicit stone some 126 days out of the year. Due to the development of a dam that was constructed on a tributary of the Elbe in 1926.

The stone additionally options an inscription doubtless added in 1938: “Neplač holka, nenaříkej, když je sucho, pole stříkej” (“Woman, do not weep and moan, if it is dry, water the sphere”). One other Elbe stone will be discovered close to Bleckede, with the inscription Geht dieser Stein unter. Wird das Leben wieder bunter (“When this stone goes below, life will turn out to be extra colorful once more”).

A 2013 paper analyzing the historical past of historically severe drought within the Czech area from 1090 to 2012 relied partly on Hunger stones as “epigraphic knowledge” of previous historically severe droughts, supplementing proof gleaned from annals, chronicles, diaries, tax paperwork, spiritual information, letters, printed manuscripts, and trendy instrumental knowledge. (Apparently, in 1393, the drought was so extreme it was doable to cross the River Vltava on its mattress, and the water was “as inexperienced as grass.”)

Frankly, that paper is value studying only for the historic anecdote regarding a priest named Prokop Diviš, recognized for serendipitously establishing one of many earliest grounded lightning rods. Diviš arrange his “climate instrument” at his parsonage in June 1754. It was composed of a number of tin bins and greater than 400 steel spikes, and Diviš thought it may drive off storms. (The scientific neighborhood of the time was lower than impressed along with his theories.)

5 years later, in the fall of 1759, native villagers demanded Diviš take away it. Satisfied that it had been the reason for that summertime’s historically severe drought. The author’s counsel that the priest’s private enemies had riled up the group. The next March, the villagers broke the chains holding the instrument down. And a thunderstorm the next evening knocked it over. However, their victory was short-lived. There have been so many Hunger stones thunderstorms the summertime, damaging the fields and vineyards. That the villagers requested him to re-install his climate instrument. “His response was not constructive,” the authors wrote.

Hunger stone at Dresden-Pillnitz, near the stairs of Pillnitz Castle's western sphinx. Inscriptions record droughts in the years 1778, 1893, 1904, 2003, 2018.
Enlarge / Starvation stone at Dresden-Pillnitz, close to the steps of Pillnitz Citadel’s western sphinx. Inscriptions file droughts within the years 1778, 1893, 1904, 2003, and 2018.

Dr. Bernd Gross/CC BY-SA 3.0

When Central Europe was but once more besieged by drought in 2018. The Elbe plummeted to its lowest range in additional than half a century and information tales. Started circulating concerning the re-emergence of the starvation stones. The Associated Press, NPR, Smithsonian, and Atlas Obscura had been among the many retailers that lined the story.

So why has the story of Hunger stones re-emerged now? Kim LaCapria, writing at Truth or Fiction, thinks it began with an August 10 put up to the subreddit r/todayilearned, linking to the Wikipedia entry on starvation stones “merely as a focal point.” Maybe not coincidentally, two days earlier than that, low-water ranges in Lake Mead. Because of the excessive megadrought resulted in the discovery of one more set of human stays. The fourth physique discovered thus far. So, as conversations about drought and local weather change circulated within the ether. They created the right circumstances to reignite curiosity within the starvation stones. Sparking a recent flurry of stories tales—like this one.

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