The Year the Earth Turned Dark

From 535-536 CE, crops around the globe refused to produce. People from many cultures wrote of that year having droughts and strange weather. It was the year the Sun was darkened by volcanic dust.

At least that is the conclusion most scientists are only beginning to find. What happened to humanity during this time period is very well documented however. Historians have ample evidence from around the globe showing that these events did, in fact, occur.

The Old Man of the South Pole

China witnessed drought across the nation, which caused some regions to lose 70% of its population. The blue-tinted ash in the skies brought with it a drop in temperature, which, in turn, brought snow and frost in the summer months. Ash was so thick in the night-sky that the second brightest star, Canopus, could not be seen by Chinese astronomers. Canopus was known in China as the Old Man of the South Pole, a symbol of longevity and happiness.

The Gaelic Irish Annals have records showing famine as well. “A failure of bread in the year 536 AD” is reported in the Annals of Ulster and the Annals of Inisfallen report “A failure of bread from the years 536–539 AD”. Interestingly, Inisfallen was not the only place to have longer-lasting issues. Peru had larger problems as well.

An ice-core storage freezer

Ice-core samples from glaciers in the Andes show that, beginning in the year 536, the Moche culture of Peru would have dealt with 30 years of severe rain. Yet after 30 years of rain, it just stopped, leaving a drought for another 30 years. Stable weather had been promised by the Moche religion through sacrifice, but the rain and drought brought a falter. Some have claimed that the weather brought unrest which eventually ended the Moche civilization entirely. And this wouldn’t be the only culture destroyed by the strange weather.

Ruins at Teotihuacán

In the Basin of Mexico, the city of Teotihuacán was heavily affected by drought and famine. Juvenile skeletons from their era of decline show signs of malnutrition, which shows the people had begun to starve. Signs of localized fires have been found in Teotihuacán, fires which seem to have been intentionally set. A lot of evidence like this has revealed that there was civil unrest and rebellion against a government that could not feed its people.

An event had hit the entire earth. Ice-cores from Antarctica and Greenland have deposits of sulfates in that period. Even tree-rings in California, Finland, and Sweden show little growth during that year. All of these stories combine to show that for at least one year, the population of the earth was joined under a single struggle. Who knows if it means anything, but the course of history was drastically changed that year.

3 thoughts on “The Year the Earth Turned Dark

  1. Dear Professor Elliot,

    I have just watched the Episode 3 of (the BBC’s) Andrew Marr’s History of the World, in which this claim that 535AD was followed by 30 years of heavy rain and 30 years of drought was also made. Am I right in thinking that David Keys’ 1999 book Catastrophe: A Quest for the Origins of the Modern World is the sole source for these claims (and that they are not universally accepted) – as Wikipedia appears to suggest? Or do you know of corroborating sources and/or evidence?

    If you want to understand why I am asking the question, I would recommend you at least skim-read the following:
    1. The About page on my blog.
    2. My post about Episodes 1 and 2 of Andrew Marr’s programme (2 October 2012).
    3. My post about the potential for an imminent cataclysmic eruption of Katla on Iceland (17 September 2012).

    Yours hopefully,
    Martin Lack.

    1. I wasn’t sure if you were addressing the event itself as well, so I’ll just start there.

      There isn’t much doubt that such an “event” happened in 535-536. There are even some who think that there were multiple volcanic eruptions, not just one. An article by Mike Baillie entitled “Dendrochronology raises questions about the nature of the AD 536 dust-veil event” addresses the evidence in tree-rings for such a claim.

      Work by scientists at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of East Anglia, and more have added ice-core samples to the evidence that such an event occurred. And there are some who have even speculated which volcano erupted. One claims the possibility of the volcano Rabaul (in Papua New Guinea) being the volcano to blame.

      Some scholars are pointing to the collapse of Teotihuacan occurring in the 6th and 7th century. Peru is also shown to have had droughts in the end of the 6th century. Which, when looking at the timing of Teotihuacan’s collapse, Peru’s droughts, and even records from Ireland, it is easy to make the claim that the events were connected.

      It does seem, however, that David Keys is the only person to have put these two events together. I have only included these points as they seem to have the most evidence, but I will edit my article to better reflect that.

      Thank you!

      1. Thanks for this response. For the record, I was not questioning whether the event of 535-36 occurred (it clearly did). What I was asking about was the evidence for 30 years of heavy rain and 30 years of drought which supposedly followed it. Taken together, I can see now why Icelandic vulcanologists are so worried about Katla.

        If you live in the UK, I would recommend watching Andrew Marr’s programme – If only to marvel at the way he has attempted to disguise his “climate change is natural and we cannot stop it” as message as factual entertainment. However, I must admit it is frustrating to see such opportunities to make the argument that “civilisations that do not recognise the importance of their environment will always collapse” so comprehensively missed.

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