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Drought revealing ancient relics around the world

From left to right, top to bottom, The wreckage of a WWII German warship near Prahovo, Serbia, dinosaur tracks at Paluxy River in Glen Rose, Texas, submerged Gary Qasruka village in Iraq, sunken boat at Lake Mead in Nevada and the Dolmen of Guadalperal megalithic site in Spain.

Dinosaur tracks in Texas. World War II ships in Germany. An entire ancient city in Iraq.

Severe drought intensified by climate change is drying up waterways around the world, resurfacing long-hidden fossils, artifacts, and ancient relics. Here’s a look at some of them.

Dinosaur footprints

Dinosaur tracks at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas that were previously hidden underneath the Paluxy River. Severe drought conditions exposed dinosaur tracks from around 113 million years ago. DINOSAUR VALLEY STATE PARK/NYT

In Glen Rose, Texas, scorching temperatures and bone-dry air left a riverbed parched, revealing sets of dinosaur footprints in Dinosaur Valley State Park that experts say are 113 million years old.

“We’re talking thousands of tracks,” said Jeff Davis, the park’s superintendent.

Some of the newly revealed tracks came from an acrocanthosaurus, a carnivorous, two-legged, three-toed creature; others came from a sauroposeidon, the tallest known dinosaur species. Park officials say the four-legged, herbivorous creature stood at a stunning 60 feet tall and weighed some 44 tons.


In mid-August, Davis said a “huge group” of professional and amateur volunteers came in to examine the tracks.

“It was dozens of people over about a two-week period,” he said.

But this week, the park received some much-needed rain and the river is flowing, so the tracks are once again covered.

Research shows that changing climatic conditions contributed to dinosaurs’ extinction. As our current climate crisis progresses, more drought could be in store for Dinosaur Valley State Park.

“I’m hopeful that we won’t continue to have bad droughts,” Davis said. “But also I’m realistic.”

Human skeletons

Amid an ongoing megadrought in the US Southwest, Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, dipped to historically low levels this summer. As it has receded, the water body, which lies on the Colorado River and falls on the Nevada-Arizona border, has shared some grisly secrets in the form of human cadavers. Human remains have been found on five separate occasions since May.

On the afternoon of May 1, rangers found human remains in a barrel. Officials preliminarily ruled that they came from a man killed by gunshot. Police said the body was dumped in the 1970s or 1980s; a firearm was later found nearby, but it’s not clear the discoveries were related. On May 7, two sisters visiting the park came upon a human skeleton. It was later found to be the remains of a middle-aged man who was out for a swim.


A man walked by a formerly sunken boat, now upright in the air with its stern buried in the mud along the shoreline of Lake Mead in Nevada. John Locher/Associated Press

Nearly two months later, on July 25, park visitors made a third awful discovery: parts of a skeleton on a stretch of the shore known as a popular swimming and boating spot. Soon after, on Aug. 6, more skeletal remains were found in the same location; investigators are working to determine whether the two sets of remains were from the same person. And on Aug. 16, a visitor who was swimming came upon partial remains.

Not all the discoveries were quite so gruesome. The low waters also revealed dozens of sunken boats, including one dating back to World War II.

The future of Lake Mead, however, is looking pretty grim. Models predict it will continue to lose water over the coming years, with potentially dire consequences for the millions of people who rely on the reservoir.

More World War II relics in Europe

A kayaker paddled by the wreckage of a World War II German warship in the Danube River near Prahovo, Serbia, Aug. 26. Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

Across the Atlantic, Europe is experiencing its worst drought in at least 500 years, a preliminary analysis shows. The dry heat is sparking wildfires and threatening both crop yields and hydropower generation. And here, too, long-lost relics have been exposed.


The Danube River has fallen to one of its lowest levels in a century, revealing about two dozen Nazi warships that had been resting on the river bottom since World War II. The ships belonged to the Black Sea fleet, whose commanders sank their own ships as they retreated from Russian forces in 1944.

Historians and other researchers are making plans to study the ships, but they’ll have to be careful, because some of them are still equipped with undetonated explosives.

Climate change is likely to make drought more frequent in Europe.

Old cities

An aerial view shows the remains of the submerged Gary Qasruka village, abandoned 36 years ago, which partly resurfaced following a large drop in water level of the Duhok Dam in Iraq.ISMAEL ADNAN/AFP via Getty Images

In Iraq, years of relentless drought have left multiple cities — each thousands of years old — exposed.

As the Mosul dam in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region receded this year, remains of a 3,400-year-old habitation emerged, archaeologists announced in late May.

The researchers say the city might be Zakhiku, an important center in the Mittani Empire that ruled the region that is modern day Iraq from roughly 1550-1350 B.C.E. Over the past decade, fragments of the urban center have been revealed a few times.

Further east in Iraq, in August, another submerged residence became visible: The Gary Qasruka village, which is usually submerged under the waters of a dam. It was abandoned in 1985 and has appeared several times before.

Drought conditions around the world have resurfaced other once-submerged residences. Back in February, a long dry spell emptied out a dam on the border of Spain and Portugal, revealing the a village called Aceredo that was flooded in 1992.


Parts of the old village of Aceredo, submerged three decades ago when a hydropower dam flooded the valley, reemerged from drought at the Lindoso reservoir in northwestern Spain. Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

Buddhist statues

Unprecedentedly high temperatures have plagued a huge swath of China for weeks, marking the longest and most widespread heat wave in world history.

Luoxing Dun, a small island with ancient temples on it in China's largest freshwater Poyang Lake in Juijiang. The area is typically half-submerged, but has been exposed during China's recent record heat wave. NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

The conditions are leaving the Yangtze River — the third longest river in the world — parched, surfacing three 600-year-old Buddhist statues, among other relics. The artifacts were temporarily revealed by low water levels in 2020, then were submerged again until this month.

Other bits of history have reemerged elsewhere in the world. In Italy, low water levels in the Tiber River revealed the ruins of an ancient bridge said to have been built by the Roman emperor Nero around 50 A.D. In Spain’s western Extremadura region, a prehistoric stone circle known as the “Spanish Stonehenge” — usually hidden under the the Valdecañas reservoir — reappeared. And in Catalonia in northeastern Spain, low water levels exposed part of an 11th-century church. Usually, only the church’s spire can be seen.

The ruins of an ancient Roman bridge are visible from the bed of the Tiber River in Rome. Associated Press

Resurfaced relics and curiosities aside, drought is taking a massive toll on people and ecosystems. It is leading to wildfires and depleting supplies of food, water, and energy. In the future, as the climate continues to warm, the situation will almost certainly become even worse.

By quickly curbing fossil fuel usage and otherwise drawing down planet-heating emissions, we can limit how much more common and severe drought becomes.


The Dolmen of Guadalperal megalithic site is now fully visible after waters surrounding it receded due to drought in Spain. PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images
The ruins of the church of Sant Roma de Sau in the Catalonia region of Spain. JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images

Dharna Noor can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor.