The Bizarre Climate Change Of The Sixth Century

“During this year a most dread portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light without brightness [. . .] and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear.” —Procopius

In A Nutshell

Something major happened on Earth 1,478 years ago. From 535–536, the Northern Hemisphere experienced a period of extreme cooling. People all over the world recorded extreme low temperatures, crop failure, drought, and a lack of direct sunlight due to a dense fog and cloud cover. Samples from around the world have provided clues that the event may have been caused by a large volcanic eruption or the impact of a comet or meteorite, but with no human record of any similar events, the direct cause remains a mystery.

The Whole Bushel

In the years 535–536, the world experienced a period of extreme cooling that was caused by one of the greatest natural disasters in history. The event blotted out light and heat from the Sun, which directly or indirectly led to climate change, famine, migration, war, crop failure, and political change. At this time in history, the bubonic plague spread across the world and greatly damaged the Roman Empire, which would lose half its territory over the next century.

During these years of extreme weather, people all over the world recorded extreme low temperatures, including crop failure, a drought in Central America, a strange yellow dust over Asia, and a dense fog over the Middle East, China, and Europe. Tree ring analysis has found little growth for the year 536 in Ireland, Sweden, Finland, California, and Chile. Ice core samples from Greenland and Antarctica have provided evidence for a large sulfate deposit in 535. There is also evidence for a decline in tree growth from the year 542.

The tree ring analysis and ice core evidence points to the fact that the cooling was probably caused by a large volcanic eruption or impact of a comet or meteorite. Many people have attempted to explain the occurrence and feel the event was caused by the eruption of Rabaul in Papua New Guinea, the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa, or the Tierra Blanca Joven eruption of the Ilopango caldera in Central El Salvador. Others feel ice core samples provide evidence that the Earth experienced a comet impact and massive terrestrial debris ejection. The true cause of the cooling remains a geological mystery that continues to be investigated by the scientific community.

Show Me The Proof

New ice core evidence for a volcanic cause of the A.D. 536 dust veil
A comet impact in AD 536?
Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of Modern Civilization, David Keys
Climate Change and the Fall of the Late Roman Empire

  • inconspicuous detective

    this is really interesting. IMO, it sounds like a volcanic eruption (which would explain the sulfate in the core samples goes a long way to suggesting a volcano is to blame, though i’m no expert so don’t quote me.

    • Limesy

      I would never quote someone who doesn’t close their parenthesis, so no worries.

      • inconspicuous detective

        why, whatever do you mean? (kidding. i fixed it. thanks for pointing it out).

    • Hillyard

      A check of local legends, in areas not considered part of the “civilized” world might revel something. Stories about angry gods and what they did quite often explain natural phenomena.

      • inconspicuous detective

        agreed though i don’t know that many documents exist of the people from that time (and from what we can gather, things like the yellow fog over parts of asia, the middle east, and europe are revealing).

  • The Serious Chicken

    I thought the Bubonic Plague spread in the High Period of the Middle Ages, rather than in the mid-dark ages?
    Was there more than one outbreak or am I (or the author) mistaken?

  • John Fagan

    The tale of King Arthur dates from this time. In that tale it describes the country experiencing a great famine as the skies darkened and nothing would grow. There are similar tales from Korea, Japan and China.

  • Exiled Phoenix

    Natural phenomena. No more no less.

  • Alex Jones

    If only they’d raised taxes on fossil fuels, invested in wind farms and stopped driving SUV’s it would never have happened

  • sbw

    Must have been Bush’s fault. Let’s ask Nancy Pelosi; she was a little girl then and might remember..

    • Ray

      Back then she was busy battling he-man.

  • TheTrurth

    This was right around the time the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) was born. A few years after, I think. Hmmmmmm interesting.

    • Happy Camper

      What the fuck is trurth?

    • Exiled Phoenix

      I would slap muhammeds forehead with my cock. Religion is idiotic.

  • Happy Camper

    Well, according to leading “expert” Albert Arnold Gore, climate change is solely caused by modern industrial pollution. I guess the corporate big wigs of the 5th century were careless with their carbon emissions.

  • Tim Lazenby

    I think I prefer the comet near miss theory. It explains the melted stone in scottish hill forts that happened at this time. The volcanic eruption may have been triggered by this event.