Why One Scientist Says 536 C.E. Was the “Worst Year to Be Alive”

A volcanic eruption shrouded the Earth in darkness, leading to a frigid summer and mass starvation.

One specific year during the so called Dark Ages makes a very good case for being the darkest of them all. That’s according to Science Magazine, where medieval historian Michael McCormick says the year 536, which marked the arrival of an  18-month-long fog that shrouded much of the Northern Hemisphere in literal darkness, was the nadir of human existence.

“Temperatures in the summer of 536 fell 1.5°C to 2.5°C, initiating the coldest decade in the past 2300 years,” Science explained. “Snow fell that summer in China; crops failed; people starved. The Irish chronicles record ‘a failure of bread from the years 536–539.’” Just two years later, the bubonic plague hit the Roman Empire’s outpost at Pelusium in Egypt. The pandemic soon spread to Eastern Europe, wiping out as much as half of the population and hastening the fall of the Empire.

Until recently, the source of this catastrophic fog was unknown. But now, scientists using ice core samples from a Swiss glacier have identified an Icelandic volcano eruption as the culprit. Its massive ash plume obliterated the sun, wreaking havoc on agriculture and leading to widespread famine and disease.

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