Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Hunger Stones And Their Antecedents

This is a notable genre of historically expression that I've only encountered once before, an an inscription from the arid period of ca. 2200 BCE in Mesopotamia that toppled the Akkadian Empire.* 

A lengthy drought in Europe has exposed carved boulders, known as "hunger stones," that have been used for centuries to commemorate historic droughts — and warn of their consequences. 
The Associated Press reports that hunger stones are newly visible in the Elbe River, which begins in the Czech Republic and flows through Germany. 
"Over a dozen of the hunger stones, chosen to record low water levels, can now be seen in and near the northern Czech town of Decin near the German border," the AP writes.

One of the stones on the banks of the Elbe is carved with the words "Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine": "If you see me, weep." 
A team of Czech researchers described that stone in detail in a 2013 paper about the history of droughts in Czech lands. 
The stone is also chiseled with "the years of hardship and the initials of authors lost to history," the researchers wrote:

"It expressed that drought had brought a bad harvest, lack of food, high prices and hunger for poor people. Before 1900, the following droughts are commemorated on the stone: 1417, 1616, 1707, 1746, 1790, 1800, 1811, 1830, 1842, 1868, 1892, and 1893." 
. . .
Tree-ring research in north-central Europe has found evidence of repeated "megadroughts" in the 15th through 19th centuries. 
And an article in Nature earlier this summer compared recent droughts in Europe to droughts over the last 250 years. The scientists found that the 21st century droughts were indeed extreme, but not as long-lasting or as massive as the worst of the historic ones. 
However, the same study noted that the more recent droughts are also linked to record-breaking temperatures. That appears to be causing "unprecedented drying trends" for the soil, which hurts crops. 
This trend "raises concerns about the consequences of extreme meteorological droughts" as the climate continues to warm, the researchers note. 
The drought in northern and central Europe this year is "one of the most intense regional droughts in recent memory," The Guardian wrote in July, and it is paired with abnormally hot temperatures.
From National Public Radio.

The drought of 1790 coincides with the French Revolution. The last several coincide with considerable surges in migration to New World.

* These inscriptions are known as the Curse of Akkad:
For the first time since cities were built and founded, 
The great agricultural tracts produced no grain, 
The inundated tracts produced no fish, 
The irrigated orchards produced neither syrup nor wine, 
The gathered clouds did not rain, the masgurum did not grow. 
At that time, one shekel's worth of oil was only one-half quart, 
One shekel's worth of grain was only one-half quart. . . . 
These sold at such prices in the markets of all the cities! 
He who slept on the roof, died on the roof, 
He who slept in the house, had no burial, 
People were flailing at themselves from hunger.
A more complete version can be found here.

The same drought may also have been responsible for the demise of the Sarasvati River and collapse of Harappan civilization the opened the door for Indo-Europeans to advance into South Asia. The Old Kingdom in Egypt (2686 BCE – 2181 BCE) collapsed around the same time, giving rise to the First Intermediate Period in which the Egyptian empire collapsed into two kingdoms, each with declining central authority after having been united in one, that ended around 2080 BCE. And, this drought may have weakened the states in Anatolia, allowing the first Hittite city-state to establish itself there.

It may even had led to the demise of a civilization in China: "The drought may have caused the collapse of Neolithic Cultures around Central China during the late 3rd millennium BCE. At the same time, the middle reaches of the Yellow River saw a series of extraordinary floods related to the legendary figure of Yu the Great. In the Yishu River Basin, the flourishing Longshan culture was affected by a cooling that severely reduced rice output. This led to substantial decrease in population and fewer archaeological sites. In about 2000 BCE, Longshan was displaced by the Yueshi culture, which had fewer and less sophisticated artifacts of ceramic and bronze."

This drought may be responsible for the prohibitions on pig eating that survive today in Jewish Kosher rules and Islamic halal dietary restrictions according to William J. Burroughs, "Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Age of Chaos" (2005). 

A volcanic eruption is one possible explanation for this drought also known as the 4.2 kiloyear climate event, although a 2013 paper fingered an asteroid impact. The 4.2-kiloyear BP aridification event was one of the most severe climatic events of the Holocene period. It defines the beginning of the current Meghalayan age in the Holocene epoch. 

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