The year 2020 will be remembered as a strange and sad year.
For many, and this article in no way means to undermine the tragedy that this year has brought to people around the world.
The aim of this article is to share another year that was difficult for humanity.
The year is 536 – bringing us back to, as Michael McCormick would call it, “the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year”.
So why was this year deemed the worst year over years such as 1349, which saw the Black Death wreak havoc in Europe, or 1918 with the devastation of the Spanish flu?
Firstly, as documented by Procopius, a Byzantine historian, a fog had started to settle over Europe.
As he described it, “during this year a most dread portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light without brightness”.
The world existed in this condition for 18 months, the sun only coming out for 4 hours a week.
This has been attributed later to a volcanic eruption, hence the ash causing a layer in the atmosphere and reducing visibility.
This obviously influenced harvest and caused famine all over the globe – firstly by the reduced sunlight,
But also due to the colder weather conditions with the temperature.
There is evidence to suggest that temperatures had fallen so much that snow reportedly.
Fell in August in the Northern and Southern dynasties of China, which caused the harvest to be delayed.
Both the dust and temperature drop caused famine in the Middle East, China and in Europe.
The Moche civilisation in South America, who relied heavily on agriculture, were greatly affected.
Unfortunately, this affected temperatures for years and caused droughts as seen in Peru and famines for many years to come.
Places that were massively hit were areas like Ireland which had their own bread failure.
This could be seen though the analysis of Irish oak, which saw very little growth that year.
This was also seen throughout the world in trees in Sweden, Finland and even in California’s Sierra Nevada.
This is just an example of how odd the weather conditions were in this time and how devastating the effects must have been on the growth of crops as well.
The strange weather conditions did not stop with the fog though, as an account from China tells of a raining of ash that one could hold in their hands.
The Chinese Chronicle Nan Shi describes of this “yellow ash like substance falling from the sky” which they later named Hui which translates to dust.
Volcanic eruptions are the most likely cause of this and the darkening of the sun.
Icelandic eruptions in around 536, 540 and 547 can be found in the ice caps which presents evidence to why the climate was so badly affected.
This would help start a period of cooling similar to the Little Ice Age which occurred from 1303.
It was a cooler period of time that saw the complete freezing of the River Thames even during the English winter.
In both these periods, temperatures dropped over the earth which effected crops tremendously.
What made the year even worse was the plague that struck the people, especially as their immune systems were already damaged by the lack of Vitamin D.
All areas of society were affected – from the lower classes all the way up to royalty.
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