Europe’s drought exposes WWII ships, bombs and prehistoric stones

Europe’s drought exposes WWII ships, bombs and prehistoric stones

Weeks of baking heat and drought across Europe have seen water levels in rivers and lakes fall to levels few can remember, exposing long-submerged treasures – and some deadly hazards.

In Spain, archaeologists have been delighted by the emergence of a prehistoric stone circle dubbed the “Spanish Stonehenge” that is usually covered by waters of a dam that have fallen in the worst drought in decades.

Officially known as the Dolmen of Guadalperal, the stone circle currently 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.

The dolmen of Guadalperal, also known as the Spanish Stonehenge, is seen due to the receding waters of the Valdecanas reservoir in the outskirts of El Gordo, Spain [File: Susana Vera/Reuters]

The stone circle was discovered by German archaeologist Hugo Obermaier in 1926, but the area was flooded in 1963 in a rural development project under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. Since then it has only become fully visible four times.

Another of Europe’s mighty rivers, the Danube, has fallen to one of its lowest levels in almost a century as a result of the drought, exposing the hulks of more than 20 German warships sunk during World War II near Serbia’s river port town of Prahovo.

The vessels were among hundreds scuttled along the Danube by Nazi Germany’s Black Sea fleet in 1944 as they retreated from advancing Soviet forces. The sunken ships still hamper river traffic during low water levels.

Ivica Skodric, a old local fisherman, inspects the wreckage of a German warship in the Danube in Prahovo, Serbia August on 18, 2022 [Fedja Grulovic/Reuters]

Italy has declared a state of emergency for areas around the River Po, and in late July a previously submerged 450kg (1,000-pound) World War II bomb was discovered in the low-running waters of the country’s longest river.

About 3,000 people living near the northern village of Borgo Virgilio, close to the city of Mantua, were evacuated while military experts defused and carried out a controlled explosion of the US-manufactured device earlier this month.

Members of the Italian army remove a World War II bomb that was discovered in the dried-up River Po which has been suffering from the worst drought in 70 years, in Borgo Virgilio, Italy, on August 7, 2022 [Flavio Lo Scalzo/Reuters] A World War II bomb discovered in the dried-up river Po is detonated by the Italian Army in Medole, Italy, on August 7, 2022 [10th Engineer Regiment/Reuters]

Memories of past droughts have also been rekindled in Germany by the reappearance of so-called “hunger stones” along the Rhine river. Many such stones have become visible along the banks of Germany’s largest river in recent weeks.

Bearing dates and people’s initials, their re-emergence is seen by some as a warning and reminder of the hardships people faced during former droughts.

Dates visible on stones seen in Worms, south of Frankfurt, and Rheindorf, near Leverkusen, included 1947, 1959, 2003 and 2018.