536 AD - The 'Worst' Year in History?

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In summary, Michael McCormick argues that 536 was the worst year to be alive because of the extreme weather events, most likely caused by a volcanic eruption.
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536 AD - Worst Year in History (by Kings & Generals)

In 2018, medieval scholar Michael McCormick nominated 536 as "the worst year to be alive" because of the extreme weather events probably caused by a volcanic eruption early in the year, causing average temperatures in Europe and China to decline and resulting in crop failures and famine for well over a year.

Glacier cores reveal Icelandic volcano that plunged Europe into darkness
Ask medieval historian Michael McCormick what year was the worst to be alive, and he's got an answer: "536." Not 1349, when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe. Not 1918, when the flu killed 50 million to 100 million people, mostly young adults. But 536. In Europe, "It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year," says McCormick, a historian and archaeologist who chairs the Harvard University Initiative for the Science of the Human Past.

A mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night—for 18 months. "For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year," wrote Byzantine historian Procopius. Temperatures in the summer of 536 fell 1.5°C to 2.5°C, initiating the coldest decade in the past 2300 years. Snow fell that summer in China; crops failed; people starved. The Irish chronicles record "a failure of bread from the years 536–539." Then, in 541, bubonic plague struck the Roman port of Pelusium, in Egypt. What came to be called the Plague of Justinian spread rapidly, wiping out one-third to one-half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire and hastening its collapse, McCormick says.

The Worst Year Ever to Be Alive in History​

By https://greekreporter.com/author/patricia/, April 26, 2021
. . . thanks to almost unimaginably precise analysis from a glacier in Switzerland by a team led by medieval historian Michael McCormick and glaciologist Paul Mayewski at the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UMO) in Orono has finally found the culprit to all the human misery of 536, often described as the worst year to be alive.

Cataclysmic Icelandic volcano eruption threw world into darkness in 536​

The team reported at a workshop at Harvard University this week that a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland was responsible for depositing ash all across the Northern Hemisphere early in that year.
It's not clear to me that the reference to 'this week' in the previous article is the week of the byline. Apparently, the results of a study were reported in 2018.

Friday, November 16, 2018 - Previous studies had linked such changes in climate to cataclysmic volcanic eruptions, but it had been thought the eruption in A.D. 536 might have taken place in North America. McCormick, Mayewski, and their colleagues conducted an “ultraprecise analysis” of slivers of ice from a core taken from a Swiss glacier in 2013, which allowed them to pinpoint the occurrence of storms and volcanic eruptions, as well as levels of lead pollution over the past 2,000 years. The chemical composition of two microscopic particles of volcanic glass, located in a section of the ice core dating to the spring of 536, resembled volcanic rocks from Iceland. Vulcanologist Andrei Kurbatov of the University of Maine said the next step is to look for particles from the volcano in lakes in Europe and Iceland.



Edit/update: https://grapevine.is/news/2018/11/1...-for-worst-year-to-be-alive-in-world-history/ (site from Iceland)
“[A]n ultraprecise analysis of ice from a Swiss glacier by a team led by McCormick and glaciologist Paul Mayewski at the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono has fingered a culprit,” Science reports. “At a workshop at Harvard this week, the team reported that a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland spewed ash across the Northern Hemisphere early in 536. Two other massive eruptions followed, in 540 and 547. The repeated blows, followed by plague, plunged Europe into economic stagnation that lasted until 640.”
. . .
“In ice from the spring of 536, UM graduate student Laura Hartman found two microscopic particles of volcanic glass,” Science explains. “By bombarding the shards with x-rays to determine their chemical fingerprint, she and Kurbatov found that they closely matched glass particles found earlier in lakes and peat bogs in Europe and in a Greenland ice core. Those particles in turn resembled volcanic rocks from Iceland. The chemical similarities convince geoscientist David Lowe of The University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand, who says the particles in the Swiss ice core likely came from the same Icelandic volcano.”

I would like to see more about the elemental (Ti, Mg, Si, . . . ) and isotopic analyses that point to a specific Icelandic volcano.
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That was a nice video.
However, in trying to make it relevant to today they made comparisons 536 problems (largely environmental) with 2020 and the corona virus. Those are to really different things, not only in the ways they are messing things up (environment vs. disease) but also in the highest levels of damage they may cause. An environmental disaster can be much more destructive than a mere disease with such a low lethality as covid.

Edit by mentor - removed off topic discussion.
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BillTre said:
However, in trying to make it relevant to today they made comparisons 536 problems (largely environmental) with 2020 and the corona virus.
I thought the reference to 2020 was a bit non sequitir, so I didn't pay much attention to it. Yes, pandemics, invasions (e.g., Huns, Mongols, . . . ) and dramatic climate changes lead to dramatic changes in civilizations. However, I was more interested in the analysis that pinpointed an eruption of an Icelandic volcano, as opposed to a North American volcano, or a Caribbean volcano, e.g, Soufrière Hills (Montserrat) or La Grande Soufrière (Guadeloupe).

If it is indeed an Icelandic volcano, which one?

Also, I'm curious about the writings of then contemporary authors such as St. Gildas, who in 536 apparently wrote some of his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, which recounts the history of the Britons before and during the coming of the Saxons, Procopius in Byzantium, who wrote of the wars with the Vandals, and others.


It is coincidental that I was reading about the Celts in England after the Romans and before the arrival of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, and noted that Gildas was writing his perspectives of the time. Britain was already destabilized with the arrival of Hengist and Horsa with the Saxons in 447 CE.
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Related to 536 AD - The 'Worst' Year in History?

1. What events occurred during 536 AD that made it the 'worst' year in history?

In 536 AD, a series of natural disasters occurred, including a dense fog that lasted for 18 months, crop failures, and extreme cold temperatures. Additionally, the bubonic plague, also known as the Justinian Plague, began to spread during this year, causing widespread death and devastation.

2. How did these events impact society during that time?

The natural disasters and plague caused widespread famine, economic collapse, and social unrest. Many people died from starvation and disease, and the loss of crops led to food shortages and inflation. This had a significant impact on the population and economy of Europe and Asia.

3. What caused the dense fog that lasted for 18 months?

The cause of the dense fog is still debated among scientists, but it is believed that a volcanic eruption, possibly from the Ilopango volcano in El Salvador, may have contributed to the fog. The eruption would have released ash and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, causing a cooling effect and creating the fog.

4. Was the year 536 AD truly the 'worst' year in history?

While it is difficult to determine the 'worst' year in history, 536 AD is considered a particularly challenging time due to the combination of natural disasters and the spread of the bubonic plague. However, other years in history have also seen significant disasters and tragedies.

5. How did the events of 536 AD impact future civilizations?

The events of 536 AD had a lasting impact on the development and progress of civilizations in Europe and Asia. The economic and social consequences of the natural disasters and plague were felt for years to come, and the population was significantly reduced. The Justinian Plague also paved the way for future outbreaks of the bubonic plague, which continued to affect the world for centuries.

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