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1258AD and All That

5 October 2013

Last year there were three posts on 1258 – two in August and one in September. This came about after archaeologists, trying to interpret mass burials at Spitalfields in London, realised they dated prior to the Black Death, in the 14th century, and the Great Famine of 1315-7 – best explained in an article in Current Archaeology – see www.archaeology.co.uk. It was then surmised they date to 1258, when there was a prominent sulphite spike in ice cores and a nearby narrow growth tree ring event. Whether the ice cores and tree ring anomaly do actually converge was not clearly and unambiguously established at the time – but the difference would have amounted to just a few years. The sulphite spike in the ice cores indicated a volcano had erupted, and a location in the tropics, otherwise unknown, was declared to be the culprit. The layer of assumption involved here is obvious. It also suited the CAGW agenda, taken up by some climate scientists for their own ends. It then progressed to The Times, and the Weather Eye column (climate and weather in the past) where he made the point that bad weather in 1912 originated with a volcano in Alaska. He went on to say the weather in 1258 was wet and cold with frosts in summer, flooding, and a poor harvest which led to famine and starvation – hence so many burials in a short window of time. He even quoted Matthew Paris, a monk at St Albans Abbey, and a reliable chronicler of events, as describing the spring and summer as very cold, right through to  June, killing cattle as much as the peasant population. He also seemed to suggest, 'an intolerable pestilence attacks the people, especially those of the lower orders, and spreads death among them in a most lamentable degree …' which he indicates he was writing as it happened. Weather Eye, having a keen eye for the unusual, also made the observation that in some parts of Europe the self flagellation religious movement began, in 1260 – just two years later. Why was this? However, he then adds, it is now known a volcano was responsible for the bad weather in 1258, accepting the mainstream explanation even though the identity of the volcano was itself unknown. Rather than say, 'it is thought a volcano was responsible …' he just took it as a given. So, what was guesswork became embalmed as mainstream truth, and so it went on. The story popped up on September 30th when the Guardian told us tree rings in early 13th century Mongolia were very wide and this implies the temperature was warm. As a result of this there would have been a lot of grass growing on the Mongolian steppe, more than enough to feed the thousands of horses the armies of the Mongols required. So, we were presented with a situation where Mongolians themselves claim there was a shortage of grass in early 13th century, leading to inter tribal conflict over pasture. Out of this internecine warfare emerged Genghis Khan, claiming he had received the mandate of heaven (something unusual seen in the sky), and according to the Guardian journalist the weather turned nice and sunny or there was lots of rain to make the grass grow long and thick, and hey presto, Kublai Khan was able to invade China in 1258. Wait a minute – the ice cores and tree rings are saying it was a cold year with a cool summer in 1258 – yet it was also the same year in which Hulugu sacked Baghdad. What was going on? This is the trouble when trying to piece history together – especially when wide tree rings could have nothing whatsoever to do with warm temperatures but merely reflect precipitation or where a tree was growing and how much competition for light it experienced. Low growth events are slightly different according to Mike Baillie – as they are saying in no uncertain terms an environmental event of some kind occurred and this most likely involved cool summer weather in the tree growing season, or a drought (or a combination of the two). Actually, I suppose it could also reflect a problem experienced in non temperature related growing conditions – possibly an attack by insect pests or a tree disease. However, if the same tree began to grow normally a few years later that would, I suppose, be excluded.

Meanwhile, people looked around for a volcano that might have blown in 1258 and at http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/09012013/article/scientists-reveal-… … and they think they have now found it – in Indonesia. The volcanic link is provided by a sulphite spike in ice cores (Greenland) which must mean a very big eruption in order to spread right across the northern hemisphere – and this one was very big, they say. The Samalas volcano on Lombok Island is reputed to be the biggest eruption in 7000 years – yet prior to this week nobody had heard about it. Big enough to cause the dust veil event – if that is what it was. They are saying Samalas ejected even more rock and dust than Tambora in 1815, previously said to be the biggest eruption in 10,000 years.

By a quirk of coincidence Steve Mitchell is currently doing some research into the 1258 event. He has also been reading Matthew Paris, 'Historia Anglorum' and notes that in 1248 stone structures in some parts of Europe were apparently burnt. Cologne cathedral had to be rebuilt while the queen's apartment at Windsor Castle suffered damage, attributed by modern historians to lightning. However, towns in Norway and a bridge at Newcastle were also damaged by 'fire' of some description. Note, this happened ten years prior to 1258. So, we have unusual storms leading up to 1258, while the Windsor incident happened in 1251 according to www.british-history.ac.uk

In the same year there were widespread earthquakes in different parts of the world – and earthquakes can trigger volcanoes. Matthew Paris said of the year 1250 'the fire shone forth in a terrible way, contrary to the usual course of nature' … which may be a reference to the lightning at Windsor, seen elsewhere. However, something similar also recurred in 1252. Was this what caused the great mortality seen in Spitalfields cemetery? There is also something else to take on board. According to Mike Baillie, the tree ring expert, ice core dates do not agree with tree ring data – they are around 7 years out of kilter. This has an origin in a sulphate spike which was assumed to match the historical eruption of Vesuvius in AD79 – and more recent ice core dates are hung from that. Ice cores, for obvious reasons, do not date back to the present – unlike tree rings. So, if there is a 7 year discrepency that must also affect the 1258ad event. According to Steve, when asked for an explanation, the ice core people may have latched on to the Matthew Paris chronicle of the peak kill-off in 1259, forgetting that the well known lag between dust veils and mass mortality. This lag can be as much as 5 years – although a shorter 2 or 3 years would be the normal lag time. In the case of the Spitalfields burials the vector = dust veil, was followed by crop failure, then by famine, pestilence, and death, so it is not at all straightforward to say a dust veil from a volcano in 1258 caused mass deaths in London. There were in fact two decent wheat harvests punctuating the associated vector event. Neither are all the burials C14 dated to the same year. However, we shouldn't ignore the economic vector (commodity prices) that runs parallel, which also included heavy taxation of people living in London (for various reasons). The lag at Spitalfields was 5 years (1252-1257) because Matthew Paris described the start of the kill-off in that year. His chronicle is trustworthy – but the scientists that wrote the article above do not appear to have read it properly.

They claim they found the sulphite spike by counting ice layers. In probability, they were scratching around for a culprit, saw the Matthew Paris chronicle entry (or read about it) and homed in on the very same year. The fact there is a 10 year +/- error range allows them to wriggle off the hook. At the same time there is another volcano that erupted at about the same time, near Lake Malawi in Africa, dated 1258 +/- 100 years. The impression provided is that there was a succession of earthquakes and volcanoes around 1258 and there is an open question as to what actually caused the Spitalfields mass burials. The vector could well have been a cosmic object exploding in the atmosphere. This could have created the unusual lightning effects, great heat, and the earthquakes – which then prodded volcanoes into life. Not saying this is true – unlike the article above which claims to have solved the mystery. It hasn't. The mystery remains.

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