» Home > In the News

back to 536AD

27 April 2015

I've already done this story but it has popped up again as New Scientist is offering it as a free to download article in order to entice new contributors. The link was sent in by Chris Phillips – go to www.newscientist.com/article/mg22129520.700-ad-536-the-year-that-winter-… … published in New Scientist issue 2952, 20th January 2014. It seems the article has now gone back into a paywall.

 The story is stale and has been largely ignored by the great and the good (and their lackeys) but do not fear – SIS is here. The year 536 involved a dim Sun – and narrow growth tree rings (a cool summer, even a cold summer). As a result the world shivered leading to famine, plauge, and the fall of empires – over a period of time, AD536-560. The Sun was veiled by day and the Moon by night – and the ocean was tumultuous with spray between March and June of the following year, a period of 14 months. It goes on to quote contemporaries such as Zacharias of Mytilene and the Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesaria, souces that have been monitored by others such as David Keys in his book, Catastrophe: an investigation into the origins of the modern world. The emperor Justinian had set out to conquer the western empire and reunite Byzantium with Rome. He defeated the Vandals in North Africa in the early 530s and then landed in Italy – but something odd happened. The Sun dimmed and the opaque sky lasted for over a year. Frost occurred in summer – even snow. From all parts of the globe, Ireland to Italy, China to central America, the year 536 was the beginning of a long cold snap that led to political turmoil. Religion lost adherents, cities collapsed (what about earthquakes), and a great plague, on a par with the Black Death, raged across the late Classical World – and no doubt affected the Romano-British population.

In the 1980s NASA geologists Stothers and Rampino looked at the year 536 and they trawled historical records looking for references to volcanoes near the Mediterranean and found there was no obvious one near 536. They concluded that a volcano somewhere else in the world must have been responsible – which gave rise to David Keys tome. He only looked at the volcanic option. We may note that Stothers and Rampino did not investigate the possibility that the dates were in error. Steve Mitchell, in an SIS article, suggested that there was a 15 year difference between Rome and Alexandria (part of Byzantium) which opens the possibility a volcano somewhat later might have been involved. However, in the equation falls Comet Halley, which paid one of its periodic visits to the inner solar system within that 15 year period.

Mike Baillie, after noting an extremely narrow set of tree rings around 536 was intrigued by what might have caused them – extending the event from 536 to 545 (and beyond). Accounts of poor agricultural yields are common at this time – and as far as Britain and Ireland are concerned, and come to that Scandinavia and Poland too, it was poor agricultural harvests that created the most common disaster to population rise and decline. In southern Europe earthquake and volcanoes were the disaster that caused large numbers of people to die – in northern Europe it was cold weather in summer. Even in the 18th century people were recorded as dying from hunger and famine on the roadsides and more silently, inside their homes. It was the factor that controlled population numbers. It occurred over and over again – until the 19th century when fossil fuels raised the stakes, and famine became a thing of the past.

Baillie was loathe to visualise a volcanic eruption as the source of his tree ring disaster (he is a dendrochronologist and was partly responsible for the creation of the Queens University tree ring record, out in the field collecting the relevant oak trees involved, mainly from bogs – which preserved them. Baillie looked up at the sky. He suggested that dust from a comet that had passed near the Earth, or a small comet that might have disintegrated at entry into the atmosphere, may explain the length of the climate downturn. Obviously, this did not go down very well with mainstream – keen to avoid extraterrestrial interference in the workings of the earth sciences. Baillie appears to have been aware of Clube and Napier's various works and articles, which appeared shortly before his his explanation of the 536 anomaly. The impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter gave further impetus (as well as a review of ancient Irish literature on odd things happening in the ancient world). In Cina, up to 75 per cent of the peasant population may have died in the wake of 536 (according to one archaeologist) and we may assume lots of people dropped their clogs – not only in China but all across the northern zone of the world. Agriculture has a temperature limit. However, depopulation is a factor in central America – at nearly the same time. We can only assume that plague occurred in the New World just as virulently as it did in the Old World. How? It was an airborne phenomenon.

In 2002 a Greenland ice core turned up glassy and metallic spherules – but no traces of them were found in a second ice core. One is left thinking there was a conspiracy to hide the data – especially when mainstream decided the first ice core was due to contamination (and the debate was shut down). Later, in 2008, another look at ice cores found a faint trace of sulphur in 534 – and the idea of a big volcano was back on the table (as no doubt mainstream hoped). The size of the known volcanoes was re-evaluated andone in El Salvador was quickly doubled in intensity. At first they were deterred as C14 data appeared to come up with a date in the 530s, some 100 years too early. Undeterred, and determined to make a tick between the volcanoes and the 536 event, they C14 dated a tree found in the ash layer – which had died between 500 and 550AD. Following this discovery, various other trees, or parts of trees, were sampled, and have confirmed a date around 535AD – possibly based on Bayesian averages.

If the eruption was so big why didn't it affect the early Maya civilisation – and the following 10 years of low growth tree rings. Was there more than one eruption? Anotgher sulphur signal has recently been found in ice cores at 540 (they seem to have stolen Baillie's idea of a double whammy) but why the true sulphur signals were not detected in earlier ice core research is itself something of a mystery. Is it a case of sequencing an unwanted extra terrestrial mechanism? If so it didn't work as Dallas Abbot, a geologist from New York, has also looked at the ice cores and she has also found metallic spherules dating from around 536. It seems Baillie's too easily has been fobbed off by mainstream – for understandable reasons. Abbot's team also found high concentrations of nickel and tin – which again may point to an extra terrestrial source. Abbot has effectively revived the comet hypothesis. |She points out that Comet Halley passed by the earth in around 530AD and Chines sources infer it was unusually bright and active in that year. Each year Earth passes through two meteor showers with an origin in Halley – but when these showers were fresh they would have been more potent. In the years around the 530s and 540s the meteor showers could well have been quite dense and could have filled up the upper atmosphere with lots of dust – thus dimming the Sun. No doubt, the terrestrialised volcanic explantation with rebound with another gloss – and there are far more people of that opinion than of the meteor/comet persuasion. Getting at the truth is not easy – or acceptable, as far as the mind is concerned. 

Skip to content