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Ship wrecks, mammoth tooth, world war ammunition: Low waters of the Rhine reveal astonishing stuff

Ship wrecks, mammoth tooth, world war ammunition : Low waters of the Rhine reveal astonishing stuff

The drought has taken its toll on the Rhine’s water levels. And it reveals the most astonishing stuff. Stuff that normally rests well beneath the surface.

A 123-year-old ship wreck in Kleve, hand grenades from both world wars in Bad Honnef, Benndorf and the Rhein-Lahn area and a mammoth tooth in Dormagen - are only a part of the curiosities found in the Rhine over the past weeks. The low waters revealed things that had disappeared a long time ago.

The freighter „De Hoop“ sank during the winter in 1895 near the Dutch border beside Kleve. Rotraud Kemkes of the Rhine-Museum in Emmerich knows the details of the tragedy: „Some ships were transporting dynamite for the emperor, but the water was covered with a thin layer of ice, so they had to unload.“ When the water was navigable again, the ships were reloaded. An explosion occurred and „De Hoop“ burned out entirely and sank. 16 people died during the disaster. The wreck was never recovered and only appears visible during very low water levels, last time during 2003. And now the 123-year-old ship is revealed again. Rotraud Kemkes knows of no other wrecks like this. „We don’t expect to see anything else reappearing like this“, she explained. The wreck has been looted by souvenir collectors. All removable parts had been taken away, reports Kemkes. Whatever is left seems to be too heavy and large to be carried away.

More dangerous than the ship wreck are the remains from the two world wars, which also resurfaced. A French artillery grenade was found in the Rhein-Lahr area. On the Grafenberg island in Bad Honnef, also a hand grenade appeared. But in previous low water occurrences there were more war relicts found than this time, says Bernhard Budszuhn, shift leader of the water police in Bonn. If walkers find a grenade or similar, they should not touch it or indeed try to transport it. Instead it is best advice to contact the police immediately.

Much older than the grenades is the mammoth tooth found in the Rhine near Düsseldorf. Paleontologist Thomas Martin from the university of Bonn examined the find: „This is a tusk, possibly dating back to the last ice age, most likely.“ This tusk must have been three meters long originally, the 1.30-metre-piece that was found was only a part of a whole one. From the scientific point of view the low waters are very helpful, said Martin. „The findings near the banks of the river were collected over time.“ But the low water levels now were revealing new material.

If someone finds something that might be a fossil, they should contact the responsible monument protection authority. The deputy director of the Neanerthal museum in Mettmann, Dr. Bärbel Auffermann, also warned not to move those objects. „A tusk will, when it dries, be very fragile.“

It is advised to be careful with finds like this. It is illegal to take them home: „The owner would be the Bundesland. If the Bundesland authorities are interested, is a matter for them to decide.

Thomas Martin expects more findings: „The Rhine offers a lot of material.“

(Original text: Stephan Werschkull (with material by the dpa) / Translation: Mareike Graepel)