What’s the worst year of your life? This year? Maybe not. This year is doing fine by all standards. What about previous years? Then we have quite a story at hand. There’s a lot of bad news these past years, but things have been pretty worse in the distant past. In 1918, an influenza pandemic killed more than 50 million people. In 1349, the Black Plague wiped out half of the population of Europe. But as usual, here at The Factionary, we present the exceptional. Dear friends, even those catastrophic years of death and horror are nothing compared with the worst year on record.
Related media: Why Was 536 AD The Worst Year To Be Alive?
The Worst Of Years
Remember that time we wrote about how to time travel? Well, you better read that article again; what if you succeed in building a real time travel machine, and you had the opportunity to travel back in time. We’re going to advice you that you veto one year on your no-go list: the year 536 in the Common Era (C.E). That’s the most mysterious year ever recorded in all of history. The year was engulfed with a mist of fog over most parts of Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, resulting in 18 months of dark skies.
“For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year,” wrote Byzantine historian Procopius.
Global temperatures dropped significantly by as much as 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit), and mid-summer snow fell in China. The years that immediately followed weren’t the most pleasant, either. The next decade recorded the coldest of the past 2,300 years than ever before. The Irish Chronicles record “a failure of bread from the years 536 to 539 C.E.” In 541, a devastating plague now known as the Justinian Plague broke out in the eastern Roman Empire, which eventually killed some 100 million people — one in every five — that led to the end of an era.
“It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year,” says Michael McCormick, a medieval historian and archaeologist of Harvard University’s Initiative for the Science of the Human Past.
The Rising Theories
Of all these disastrous experiences, the most strangest — likely to have caused the calamities — was the continental span of clouds and the year-and-a-half of night that it brought along. But here’s the catch: No one knew what made these years worst, until recent studies. For quite a pretty long ass time, scientists have long suspected the culprit behind the clouds and subsequent decrease in global temperatures. Who’s to blame? Massive volcanic eruptions.
In a 2015 study published in Nature, all claims of the hypothesis sought to examine the chemical composition by analyzing trees that grew during the period, that clearly suggests that the said eruption occurred somewhere in North America. But now, a team of historians, archaeologists, and climate scientists have examined ice cores in the Colle Gnifetti Glacier in the Swiss Alps that was led by McCormick and glaciologist Paul Mayewski at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute in Orono, and got hold of the culprit.
With the aid of their new, and ultra-precise readings of glacier and the tiny fragment of volcanic ash, their findings has been able to pinpoint exact volcanic activities elsewhere on earth. But that wasn’t all the volcanoes responsible. The real source? Iceland. The team later reported a cataclysmic volcanic eruption that spewed ash over the Northern Hemisphere early in 536 — with two other eruptions in 540 and 547. These events, together with the plague, plunged Europe into and economic stagnation for almost a century.
“[This] give us a new kind of record for understanding the concatenation of human and natural causes that led to the fall of the Roman Empire — and the earliest stirrings of this new medieval economy.” says Kyle Harper, provost and a medieval and Roman historian at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
The Devastations And Aftermath
For years on end, this mystery puzzled researchers; and despite the tree ring studies in the 1990s, there was no solution. Until they finally focus their attention on volcanic eruptions. During an eruption, substances like sulfur, bismuth, and other volcanic debris are spewed high into the atmosphere forming an aerosol veil that blocks ultraviolet radiation from the sun and back into space — as a result, cooling the planet. But this wasn’t all that there was to the mystery.
By carefully examining glaciers and tree rings for climate analysis, another team of researchers led by Michael Sigl of the University of Bern “found that nearly every unusually cold summer over the past 2500 years was preceded by a volcanic eruption.” The massive eruptions that occurred in North America was still a major culprit which was in late 535, or early 563 — with another eruption in 540. The team later concluded that these two eruption were to blame for the Dark Ages.
So what’s the take in all of this? Short answer: not so much. This study wasn’t about how dark these mysterious years were, but also to get a comprehensive track on the medieval economic recovery. There is a lot more to history than just sudden occurrences that seem mysterious, and these years on record have indeed proven to be the worst of all years.
So, do you still believe this year is the worst?
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Mon, Apr 08, 2019.