Volcanic eruptions that changed human history

new&nerdlyA recent study conducted by the Desert Research Institute, and published in the journal Nature, uses new techniques to recalibrate ice core data with that obtained from tree rings and the written word of the ancients.

Researchers find new evidence that large eruptions were responsible for cold temperature extremes recorded since early Roman times

According to the above article and abstract, the climatic oddities of the mid 6th century were caused by two volcanic eruptions.  The first, as yet unidentified volcano, erupted in late 535 or early 536, and was located somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere.  This event caused widespread climatic chaos recorded in chronicles and histories from China to Rome.  Such as this bit from Procopius’s History of the Wars:

And it came about during this year that a most dread portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during this whole year, and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear nor such as it is accustomed to shed. And from the time when this thing happened men were free neither from war nor pestilence nor any other thing leading to death. – Book IV, Chapter XIV

This initial blast was followed by a second, of at least equal magnitude, in the year 540, tentatively identified with an eruption of Ilopango in El Salvador that, according to radiocarbon dating occurred between 410 and 550 CE.  Krakatau in Indonesia has also been suggested as the source of the second blast (notably in Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of Modern Civilization by David Keys) as has Mt. Rabaul on the island of New Britain.

Also discussed in the study are eruptions hinted at in ancient/medieval sources in 626 CE (volcano unknown) and 939 CE (Eldgja in Iceland), among others.


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