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Catastrophic Event?

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Did a Natural Disaster Spark the Dark Ages?

By James Donahue

There is a relatively new book by British historian David Keys circulating that suggests the Dark Ages were caused, or at least helped along by a natural disaster of such magnitude that it altered human behavior for the next one thousand years.

The Dark Ages is a name for a long period of European history ranging from at about the time of the fall of the Roman Empire in the First Century to the beginning of the Renaissance in the 12th Century AD. It is called a dark period because it was a time when European people lacked stability in government and consequently fell under the rule of the Roman Catholic Church.

Lacking the refinement and culture that was brought to the area under Roman rule, civilization at that time is remembered as barbaric in its nature. After the refinements of the Roman and Greek periods, the Dark or Middle Ages are marked as a thousand years of silence. No great thought, music, invention or human advancement is known to have sprung from this time. 

Until Keys raised the question, however, historians seemed to have overlooked the suggestion that there might have been something abnormal about a culture that plunged so completely into barbaric obscurity after existing under the light of the refined cultures introduced to Europe by the Greeks and later the Romans.

His book suggests that a major cataclysmic event, such as a powerful volcanic eruption or a meteor strike that sent enough dust and ash into the stratosphere to dim the sunlight for several years, might have turned human history into a form of chaos.

Indeed, some historical accounts of the time indicate that the sun actually became dim and the Earth got colder in the year 535. The Roman historian Procupius wrote that "the sun gave forth its light without brightness. . . for the whole year." A Chinese record states that "yellow dust rained down like snow."

People who study such things confirm that a sulfuric fall-out appears in ice cores, drilled from the ice sheets in both Greenland and Antarctica, suggesting that a major volcanic eruption occurred at about this time in history. Pinpointing the material to an exact year, however, is difficult to do.

Keys also attempts to use a study of tree rings to show a cooling for a period of several years, although just where he found someone who was an expert on 2,000-year-old tree trunks is not clear.

A more interesting argument is the onset of the bubonic plague during this time, which Keys believes was caused by a breeding explosion of rats in East Africa. This, he believes, was brought about by a massive increase in normal rainfall. The moist climate altered the balance between the plague-carrying rats and their predators.

Keys notes that the plague was killing people in Alexandria in 541 AD, and it was apparently spread from there, via ships plying the Red Sea to Constantinople where an estimated 900,000 people were eradicated in less than 100 years.

The author also argues that the climate changes also created famine, which collapsed the old empires. This opened the door to invasions of the barbarian tribes from the east, and consequently brought on a long period of warfare and civil unrest. This, Keys believes, is the root of the civil phenomenon we now call the Dark Ages.

So just what happened in 535 AD that would cause such a catastrophic disruption of the advance of civilization?

Keyes suggests a very large volcanic eruption, something even larger than the great blast of Krakatoa that sunk ships and killed civilians caught within hundreds of miles of the volcano in 1883. This famous eruption between the islands of Sumatra and Java send ash and smoke into the stratosphere that, indeed, dimmed the light and brought brilliant sunsets all over the world for months. It is Keys suggestion that the villain in the year 535 also may have been Krakatoa, which erupted with an even more powerful blast.

The concept of social and economic changes brought about by catastrophe certainly is not a new one. Historians have been coming up with various theories, ranging from a meteorite collision to a pole shift for the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs. Then there is Immanuel Velikovsky, who theorized in the 1950s that the Earth was once in collision with a maverick planet.

Indeed, the cause of the one-thousand-year period of war, barbarism, and mass suffering by the illiterate masses throughout Europe is not an easy riddle to solve when looked at it in the light of contemporary religious and social belief systems.

J. S. Chiappalone, author of various books condoning Gnosticism and explaining his version of the current condition of the world, suggests an entirely different reason for the period of dark history. He argues that the world has been under the control of evil forces for so long that people believe war, corruption, violence and disease is a status quo.

In his book The Kingdom of Zion, Chiappalone quotes historian Charles Van Doren who declares "a large part of mankind's ingenuity has gone into inventing new ways of killing and torturing other human beings, and the threat of pain of death has been found to be the best, and often the only, means of ruling large numbers of people."

Describing the so-called "civilizations" that arose in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, India and China, Van Doren said "these empires gave their people law, which is to say, a measure of peace and security against the violence of other people like themselves. But they provided no security against the rulers themselves, who ruled by violence and guile."

Chiappalone then goes on to point out that throughout known history, nothing has changed. Even though there has been an occasional flowering of great nations, mankind has never really evolved from the barbaric character he was when it all began. We have demonstrated this over and over again in our actions, right up to modern times.

Chiappalone asks: "Have there been less wars, less carnage, less torture, less violence, more civilization in this century than existed thousands of years ago? If anything, there have been far more. This has been described by many and confirmed by the number of deaths to be the most violent century in known human history."

Looking at the world from Chiappalone's perspective we must conclude that the dark ages never ended.