Human history has seen its ups and downs and researchers have questioned the worst year for humans to be alive in. It could be the years of the flu pandemic or that of the Black Death or even the years of the Holocaust. Now researchers have found that none of these years were as bad as year 536 AD. The study results were published in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity.
Ancient golden Byzantine coins. Image Credit: Glevalex / Shutterstock
Harvard University archaeologist and medieval historian Michael McCormick explained that this said year and the period around that time was the worst time to be alive. He explained that economic recovery took place around 640 AD. The paper says that year 536 was the tenth year of the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian the Great. There were no plagues or major political issues and even wars at the time, the authors write. However there was an unexplained fog that covered the sunlight and temperatures thus dropped across Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. This led to failure of crops and also ill-timed snow. Crop failure led to famines across the world.
Byzantine historian Procopius during this time wrote, “And it came about during this year that a most dread portent took place… For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during this whole year, and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear nor such as it is accustomed to shed.”
Researchers have speculated that this phenomenon could have been due to volcanic eruptions that took place in Antarctica as well as Greenland. After these eruptions there was a global cooling that led to the consequences in the famines. The team of researchers found clues in the ice core analysis of the Colle Gnifetti glacier that lies in the region between Switzerland and Italy.
These ice cores are permanent ice deposits that build up slowly and remain for centuries. They provide clues as to what was happening during a particular time period. The team of researchers including McCormick and glaciologist Paul Mayewski at the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono, found that there were volcanic ash and debris mixed in the ice layer traced to the year 536 AD. This layer is called tephra. The team noted that there may have been another large eruption in 540 AD. In 541 there was a Justinian Plague or bubonic plague that further worsened the situation. The ice core revealed that things changed in around 640 AD.
The researchers found traces of lead in the ice core from 640 CE. This meant that mining and smelting silver from lead ore had started. This had probably revived the situations they explain. By 695 AD, humans had begun minting silver coins and economies had revived.
The researchers wrote, “This unambiguously shows that, alongside any residual pool of Roman bullion and imported metal, new mining facilitated the production of the last post-Roman gold coins – debased with increasing amounts of silver – and the new silver coinages that replaced them…The high-resolution ice-core record offers a new and independent chronology for renewed silver production in the early medieval west.”
https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/11/why-536-was-worst-year-be-alive and https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/antiquity/article/twilight-of-the-gods-the-dust-veil-event-of-ad-536-in-critical-perspective/4FABB859643B4B4213B97D0F98ED8D85