536 AD, the worst year for mankind

The black plague by the Norwegian painter T. Kittelsen

You probably don’t know who your ancestors were back in AD 536. Scientists have now agreed that your ancestors back then lived in the worst year of mankinds history. 

There have been many disasters throughout the history of mankind, but now they really came together in a short period of time like it did nearly 1500 years ago.

A glacier showed what happend

A 72 meter long sample of a Swiss glacier showed scientists traces of volcanic ash and sand dust. With a new kind of laser examination scientists were able to extract 50 000 samples per meter. This made it possible to get an insight on very demarcated time periods. 

According to the study published in the magazine Antiquity, there is evidence of an enormous volcano eruption on Iceland in the early months of 536 AD. This was followed by two more volcanos erupting 4 and 11 years later.

The clouds of ashes that came from the eruptions darkened all of Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia for 18 months. Because of this the temperature dropped between 1.5 and 2.5 degrees and marked the start of the coldest decade in over 2 300 years.

The bubonic plague hits Pelusium in Egypt

The great seaport of Pelusium was an important city in Egypt. This Roman provincial capital was hit by bubonic plague in the year 541 AD, later known as the Plague of Justinian.

The plague killed almost half of the population in the eastern parts of the Roman empire. 

This combination of erupting volcanoes and ravaging plagues brought Europe to an almost complete stand still for more than 100 years. 

Lead findings show signs of recovery

Traces of lead in the glacier samples, dated back to the year 640 AD, reveal that human kind had started to recover after periods of cold and plague.

Lead was used when processing silver, a sign of economic recovery.

Other years NOT to be alive

Even though 536 was a bad year to be alive, there are many other examples of years not to be alive. Two of the more known periods are of course the years of the Black Plague and the Spanish Flu. 

The Black Plague (1347-1351)

Also know as the Black Death, the Great Plague or just as the Plague, this pandemic ravaged Europe over a period of five years.

Nobody knows for sure how many lost their lives during those years, but a rough estimate is that between 30-60% of Europe’s population died. 

Even though the Black Plague is considered something that happened nearly 700 years ago, people actually still were infected with the same bacterium as late as the 19th century.

The Spanish flu (1918-1920)

This disease, caused by an influenza virus, had its outbreak during World War 1. Since Spain wasn’t part of this war, the virus got the main attention in this country and has therefore forever unjustly got its name from Spain. 

We will probably never know where the disease had it’s outbreak. Today we don’t have enough historical and epidemiological data to determine the Spanish flu’s geographic origin.

The Spanish flu cost the life of more than 40 million people. Foto: Wikimedia commons

About 500 million people were infected throughout the world, and somewhere between 5-10% of those infected lost their lives. 

Three groups of people were more likely to be infected and die from the disease, the very young, the very old and the soldiers of WWI stuck in the trenches.