Historians refer to the Middle Ages as the Dark Ages because it was a tumultuous period plagued by war and famine, but also due to a lack of available written records and historical accounts of the time.
But parts of the Dark Ages were also shrouded in literal darkness as well. Now, a new study has found out why Europe, Asia, and the Middle East suffered one of the coldest, darkest decades in the past 2,300 years during the middle of the 6th century.
It all started in 536 AD, or as one Harvard professor and historian describes it, the worst year in human history.
It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year,” medieval historian Michael McCormick told Science Magazine. Researchers and historians know that in the middle of the 6th-century economic progress ground to a halt, crops failed, and much of the world was covered in a mysterious fog for 18 months. Temperatures dropped, there was unusual snowfall in China, and a historical record from Ireland states that there was no bread from 536 to 539 because of crop failure.
On top of all that, in 541 a plague called the Plague of Justinian wiped out almost half of the Eastern Roman Empire. Tree-ring analyses in the 1990s showed that the summer of 540 was colder than average, but the reason for this was a mystery.
The volcanic particles matched volcanic rocks in Iceland which led the researchers to conclude that Icelandic eruptions descended the world into darkness after emitting large amounts of ash into the atmosphere.