Catastrophe! in 535 A.D., EARTH HAD ITS LIGHTS PUNCHED OUT by a SUPERVOLCANO. ENTIRE PLANET WAS DARK FOR FOUR LONG YEARS! NOTHING GREW except PLAGUE AND RATS! THEY CALLED IT THE DAWN of the DARK AGES!
THERE are conversational subjects that are so riveting that when you just mention them, all talk at the dinner table stops dead and you hold the floor. Global Warming, Bush Fascism, Oil Robbery, Tsunami Apathy, New Orleans & Katrina, and END TIMES. For that reason we offer the HOT CONVERSATION INDEX!
These are controversial, PARTY STOPPER conversations! To introduce one at the table, you must have a fine touch. Shyly, gracefully, you offer these humble tidbits that outshine any other conversational morsel out there in play. Here's a choice one.
WHAT KIND of thing ENDS LIFE ON THE PLANET? Well, we had one. A mass extinction and it wasn't from a comet. It was an in-house job.
February 4th, 535 A.D. KRAKATOA BLEW ITS TOP. Back then, when volcanoes went, they were gutsier! No little Mt. St Helens fart but huge spews that darkened the planet for years.http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2004/05mar_arctic.htm?aol39294 is an interesting website by US scientists telling how we potentially could have the chilling of the world within 20 yrs. (A recent Spielberg film showed what that looked like.) But that really happened. There is a PBS television show you can buy which told about the biggest volcanic belch of recent history, something very extreme which happened which changed the world's climate. And as it was 'modern times' it got chronicled by the ANCIENT CHINESE who wrote books and had a dating system. It must have been something that utterly terrified those who witnessed it and lived through it, though few did live through it. It apparently ended populations as far away as Mexico. Entire nations were wiped out as the darkness killed off food sources.
The KRAKATOA CALDERA that this BLOWHOLE left is so big and wide it defies imagining. The VOLCANO ITSELF was twenty miles across! Not a pimple, a BOIL ! AN INTERESTING PLANETARY Catastrophe resulted from the Hellish belch it let loose. The EARTH WENT DARK, even MEXICO, 14,000 miles away, its atmosphere opaqued by the sulphur and ash of one volcano in faraway JAVA! Read up on it, Google words: 535 and Krakatoa. Surf the URLS we give, click on them, check them out. & here, we have the REPRINT of the MAIN RESEARCHER and what he found. This show was on PBS.
Yes, a single VOLCANO in JAVA punched the lights out on earth for about five years! All crops failed and bacillus with awful features got hold of the rats and mosquitos carried it, and bubonic plague got started. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/pop-in-eur.html
ACTUAL PBS SHOW BELOW:
1500 years ago something extreme happened to the world's climate-something that must have terrified those who witnessed it. Feb 4th, 535 A.D. the CHINESE heard a boom in the west. The earth shock. The sun began to go dark. Rain poured red, as if tinted by blood. Clouds of dust enveloped the earth. ICE Cold NIGHT gripped the entire planet for two years. First the darkness became wintery fog, and with it drought, Famine, Plague, Death. Whole cities were wiped out - civilisations crumbled. There is evidence of a catastrophe whose consequences affected the entire world-and may have changed the course of human history.
DAVID KEYS: The mid 6th century catastrophe was the most important date
in the history of the past two thousand years. It really did lay the
foundations of the world we live in today.
NARRATOR - From the attic of his unassuming suburban home, David Keys, a
writer on history and archaeology, has developed a controversial theory
about an ancient catastrophe.
For five years he has investigated, consulting with more than forty
scientists and scholars-astronomers, physicists, climatologists and
historians-experts on cosmic collisions, volcanoes, epidemics and
ancient wars. From Mexico to Byzantium, from Africa to Indonesia he has
scoured the annals and chronicles of the sixth and seventh centuries AD.
The result is a book that tells the story of a catastrophic climatic
event, buried in the heart of the Dark Ages. An event Keys believes,
totally altered the course of world history.
The mystery that has consumed him first presented itself at a
conference on archaeology in 1994.
One particular talk really amazed me. It was a lecture given by a
dendrochronologist, an expert in tree rings, called MIKE BAILLIE
and he was giving a lecture about how all the tree rings in the world
really went haywire somewhere in the middle of the 6th century.'
Mike Baillie is an archaeologist and palaeoecologist at Queens
University in Belfast, Ireland. He has a special interest in volcano
and comet-induced environmental change, and uses tree rings to track
significant climatic variations.
Annual tree ring growth was discovered by the ancient Greeks, and as
far back as Leonardo da Vinci, the connection between
climate and ring growth has been known. Trees have always had the
potential to become silent witnesses to thousands of years of
Every year trees put on a new layer of growth within the bark. These
layers show up as rings.
Each ring varies in width. A wide ring indicates favourable growing
conditions, a narrow ring-harder times. The pattern of wide and
narrow rings is distinctive.
Mike Baillie and his colleagues developed a high-tec method to tap
into this resource. By feeding specific tree measurements into a
database, each ring sequence could be matched with rings of previously
felled trees and precisely dated. A bigger climatic picture
began to emerge.
Over the last 30 years in Northern Europe a variety of people, a
variety of laboratories have set out and worked back from known
felling dates, taking you back through long ring records of living
trees and then overlapping to patterns from historic buildings for
example, fitting together these sort of long ring pattern going back
hundreds and eventually thousands of years.
It is by painstakingly analysing and overlapping the patterns of older
and older trees that a complete, unbroken record of tree ring
widths is built up.
So you've got this sample with its very clear character change just
here. When we processed another sample from the same building
we could see that it came originally from the same parent tree and you
could extend the pattern back from the first sample right
back through to the beginning of this sample.
Many, many samples have to be analysed by a computer programme to get
the average width for every year. It took Mike Baille
fourteen years to build up the complete data just for Irish oaks. This
tree record is now telling scientists what the weather was like
every single year, for the last seven and a half thousand years.
And if you think about that, that's an astonishing position to be in,
we can interrogate for any calendar year in the last thousands of
years what trees thought of their growth conditions over a big
geographical area and that information simply didn't exist before...
But what we're interested in is why did this tree go narrow at this
point and narrow again at this point, what is the environmental
information which is actually stored in the patterns.
David Keys wanted to see for himself the mysterious 6th century event
stored in Mike Baillie's tree rings.
Right, shuffle along in through here David ...
It was ten years ago that Baillie noticed his mid-6th century AD oak
rings went abnormally narrow-a sign that something very
powerful was slowing the trees' growth.
539 540 541, 542 - extremely narrow.
And, he has corroborating evidence from a colleague in Finland.
... he sees a really abrupt drop in 536, a bit of a recovery in 537
and 538 and then it drops dramatically into 542 / so you're beginning
to see a pattern...
The pattern was not just confined to Ireland and Finland. David Keys
began contacting other labs, and found that almost everywhere
he looked, in the mid-6th century trees were showing unusual growth
patterns indicative of cold conditions.
Fox tail pine rings from the Sierra Nevada mountains in California
show that 535, 536, and 541 were three of the four worst years in
the past two millennia.
In Chile, Fitzroya trees record the greatest summer growth drop of the
past 1,600 years, as do Scots Pines in Sweden.
In Siberia a 20-year decline in tree growth that began in the 530's
was the most serious in the past nineteen hundred years.
So what happened to the trees? Was it darkness, cold, natural
pollution, or drought?
Mike Baillie looked for the answer in a microscopic examination of a
536AD oak ring. He found evidence of drastically reduced
Just for interests sake ... A colleague in Germany sent me this
photograph of one of his German oaks. The tree puts on a line of
these large spring vessels and it then puts on fine cell wood during
the summer and it goes dormant, then does again the next year.
So each year's growth is from the beginning of one line of vessels to
the beginning of the next. And in this year, the year 536, the
vessels are enormously small and they're also distributed right
through the summer. It's widely reckoned that this phenomenon is
due to frost damage.
The evidence was adding up. The implication was of missed summers and
long stretches of extreme cold in the mid-sixth century.
And Mike Baillie also had archaeological evidence from Ireland to back
up this theory. Much of the wood that he has dated came
from crannogs - wooden forts built over water where people sought
refuge during times of trouble and clan warfare.
Baillie took Keys to the remains of one crannog in Lough Catherine,
near Belfast, to look at the submerged timbers that once formed
the outer wall.
my first inkling that there was something going on came from timbers
specifically from sites like this.
The mid-sixth century marks the beginning of the construction of
crannogs. Baillie sees a strong connection between the need for
such forts and the deteriorating climate.
When you look at the overall picture there seems to be about a decade
of really bad conditions starting 536 and running on into the
mid 540s at least. The implication from lots of bits of evidence is
that it was extremely cold and that this reduced sunlight and cold
caused crop failure. So basically people in an area like this would be
forced back onto non-agricultural produce. They would be
forced to fish, they would be forced to hunt and that would put a lot
of strain on a population which was used to having agricultural
produce to see them through the winters for example. So I think things
would have been very bleak here.'
Keys was hooked - not just by the tree ring evidence that it was cold,
but because people seemed to be suffering.
His next step was to see whether there were any written historical
accounts that described a climatic catastrophe during that period.
The mid-sixth century is the time of Dark Ages Britain, and little
writing survives from that era.
But by far the greatest civilization of the time was the Roman Empire.
Rome had been sacked a hundred years earlier by Huns and
Goths-Now it was resurgent. With a new Capital in Constantinople it
was winning back territories throughout the Mediterranean.
By contacting classical scholars, Keys unearthed many highly
significant Roman accounts of bizarre weather. One eyewitness, a
Syrian bishop, John of Ephesus, describes the extraordinary events
during the years 535 and 536 AD.
"There was a sign from the sun, the like of which had never been seen
or reported before. The sun became dark and its darkness
lasted for 18 months. Each day it shone for about four hours, and
still this light was only a feeble shadow. Everyone declared that
the sun would never recover its full light again." (John of Ephesus)
One of the consultants David Keys contacted, Mike Whitby of Warwick
University, sees great significance in these records.
Historians of the 6th century empire do not usually record climatic
events unless they are something really stupendous, a natural
event like a comet will get mentioned, now in the 530s the fact that
John mentions a two year dimming of the sun indicates that it
was significant, Cassiodorus writing in Italy, he too refers to a
dimming of the sun.
We have had a spring without mildness and a summer without heat ...
The months which should have been maturing the crops have
been chilled by north winds. Rain is denied and the reaper fears new
These accounts from the Mediterranean and Middle East were
extraordinary on their own-but what about the other civilisations of
that time? Keys scoured records from North and South China, Korea and
As it turned out there were out of say well over thirty sources there
were around a dozen which actually refer directly to the darkened
sun event or to its consequences, to its immediate climatic
In 540 the Japanese Great King wrote "Food is the basis of the Empire.
Yellow gold and ten thousand strings of cash cannot cure
hunger. What avails a thousand boxes of pearls to him who is starving
The Nan Shi Ancient Chronicle of Southern China records: "Yellow dust
rained down like snow. It could be scooped up in handfuls."
As the research continued I began to realise more and more that this
disaster had really enveloped the entire world. That it just
wasn't just a few places but it was virtually everywhere
Armed with historical evidence of a global disaster, Keys turned back
to science to look for a culprit.
Climatologists had only one explanation for such sudden, extreme
global cooling and visible darkening: A dense veil of dust, ash or
acid thrown up into the atmosphere, blocking many of the sun's rays.
Only three suspects could have caused such a phenomenon-a volcano, an
asteroid or a comet.
David Keys tried to imagine what life would have been like for the
people who witnessed the catastrophe. Were they engulfed by
permanent winter? How would they have explained why the sky was dark
and their crops were failing? Would there have been clues
to the cause of the disaster?
At Los Alamos, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, scientists have been
studying all the possible atmospheric consequences of
nuclear strikes and cosmic collisions. Keys turned here to examine the
likelihood that the cause of the catastrophe came from the
We certainly have plenty of evidence that the earth is struck
asteroids large and small, comets large and small. But as far as the
global climate goes you have to have a big thing that hit the
ground in order to have a climate effect.
Extraterrestrial bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Meteors are
small rocks that roam space, occasionally hitting planets, usually
causing little damage. Asteroids are big meteors. When these objects
hit the earth's surface they explode, churning up vast
amounts of dust and debris.
David Keys asked an astrophysicist to calculate how big an impact
would have been needed to generate a climatic catastrophe
lasting at least a decade.
... to cause a major climatic catastrophe that would last decades we
would need an impact by a rather large asteroid, say four
kilometers across ...
It would take an even bigger comet to create the same effect. Comets
consist mainly of gas and ice, which give them their distinctive
tails as they move across the sky. Because they are less dense, Alan
Fitzsimmons has calculated that it would take a 6 kilometer
wide comet to affect our climate. His calculations are supported by
the 1994 impact on Jupiter by comet Shoemaker-Levy.
We saw a lot of the models and a lot of the calculations we had made
about an asteroid strike on the earth vindicated we saw the
huge plume of debris of both Jupiter itself and the vaporized comet
rise up in a huge mushroom cloud 2,000 kilometers high above
the atmosphere of the planet and then we saw it crash down again
covering an area the size of earth in a fine layer of dust
significantly cooling the atmosphere and the planet underneath.
Fitzsimmons describes how spectacular such a crash might be on Earth.
When it was just over two days from impact it would only be seen as a
very faint star in the night sky, now as it approached us, as it
got closer and closer we slowly see it brighten and grow larger until
about 30 minutes before impact it would be about the brightest
thing in the sky and by then of course we believe everyone would have
noticed it, but we wouldn't be able to do anything about it.
Now the time it takes for that asteroid to travel from the top of the
earth's atmosphere until it reaches sea level is only 8 seconds.
So we'd see this brilliant fireball all the time of course making no
sound because it's travelling about twenty times the speed of
sound. The first sound we would hear would occur minutes after we see
the huge flash of light when the asteroid strikes the earth's
surface and is instantly vaporised in a ginormous fireball.
Could this disaster have happened without anyone noticing it? No
civilisation at the time records any such event. In addition,
scientists have found no evidence of a crater left by an impact from
the sixth century.
I mean that's just yesterday in geologic time, there'd be a big
crater, we'd know about it. Certainly that happened 65 million years
ago when the dinosaurs died but I don't think it happened in the sixth
To cause such a global catastrophe such a crater would be at least ten
kilometres large, possibly much larger and there's no such
evidence of any such crater on the surface of the earth today.
But the lack of crater alone does not rule out a comet or asteroid
strike. Seventy percent of the earth is covered in water. Could the
impact have taken place in the ocean?
... if the asteroid landed in the ocean, then the initial wave caused
by the impact would be miles high ...
... there would have been humongous tidal waves, big huge tidal waves
that would have swamped the ground, swamped the coasts
for over the margins of whatever ocean it struck.
The waves would have travelled miles inland. Again, no civilisation
recorded such an event. And scientists have not detected any
significant break in coastal plant life during that period.
There did not appear to be any evidence that an asteroid or comet had
struck the Earth at this time.
But could there be another extra-terrestrial explanation? Not a
complete comet hitting the earth, but one that had fragmented and
scattered throughout the atmosphere? It's a theory tree ring
specialist and former physicist Mike Baillie suggested to David Keys.
The bombardment scenario has been classically defined as a large
number of pieces of comet arriving in a short period of time and
exploding in the atmosphere and the model for that is the 1908
Tunguska impact over Siberia which was a single object which
probably caused about a 20 megaton equivalent size explosion.
The 1908 Tunguska Event was an example of an airburst explosion. A
lightweight meteor hit the earth's atmosphere and exploded in
the air. While the shock wave caused massive local destruction, there
weren't enough microfine particles released to affect global
But Mike Baillie claims that a whole shower of cometary debris hitting
in a Tunguska style event could affect the climate...
... if you have a large number of those you're going to just put a lot
of material into the atmosphere and you're going to cause a dust
Baillie even turns to mythology to support his theory. He has analysed
the life and death of one of the most famous legends of all
time - and reached an intriguing conclusion.
6th century Britain was supposedly the time of King Arthur, king of
the Celtic Britons.
All the many legends tell that Arthur lived in the west of Britain and
that as he grew old his kingdom was reduced to a wasteland as
the British fought off invaders from Europe.
Curiously, even though the Arthur stories were written hundreds of
years later, many of them suggested that the date of Arthur's
death was 539 or 542 AD - right in the middle of the climatic
The legends tell of terrible blows that rained down from the heavens
onto Arthur's people.
Baillie believes that Arthur's death could therefore be a symbol of
something that really did happen - devastation by a comet as it
shattered, and crashed to earth.
Then you look at the mythology you discover that Arthur isn't just
somebody with a nice suit of shining armor and somebody sitting
around a round table the origins of the stories are in Celtic
The myths that Baillie says Arthur is based on contain many references
to Sun Gods with long arms rising in the western sky. He
thinks this can only be a reference to a comet and its characteristic
For him, the evidence clearly points towards the sky as the source of
the catastrophe, but David Keys still wants to explore the
possibility of a cataclysmic volcanic eruption.
There is one hostile area of the earth that could hold the crucial
clue-the polar ice caps.
For the past decade multi-national teams of scientists have been
extracting 1,000-meter-deep columns of ice from Greenland in the
north and from the Antarctic in the south. While somewhat less stable
than the information from tree rings, ice cores reveal yearly
layers of fresh snow that provide a record of what was in the
atmosphere at that time.
The ice caps contains information on what happened in the atmosphere
like volcanic eruptions, asteroids coming in how much dust
was in the air, a lot of information, the chemistry of the old
atmosphere is in there and even the chemistry today is changing in our
atmosphere if we combine this we can have a record which we can
compare with other records from the deep sea sediments, from
tree rings, from lakes but the fantastic thing about the ice caps is
that they are directly related to the atmosphere itself.
Professor Hammer's team is testing a new Greenland core from the 530's
AD that has just arrived at their laboratory.
If pieces of a comet or asteroid had exploded in the atmosphere the
team would expect to find traces of rare chemical elements like
If there had been a massive volcanic eruption, however, they would
expect an excess of sulphuric acid - the telltale signature of a
The sulphates would have been hurled into the atmosphere and scattered
by the winds. They would have returned to earth in rain and
snow, then finally been stored at the poles in ice.
And what we are going to do now is take a piece of ice out around 535
after Christ. We will have to clean it a little roughly here first"
We will now bring it into this set up here... where it will be cleaned
in the end and on all sides and then it will be cut by the steel
knife so that we are not touching the core. We have to remove quite a
lot to be sure that we don't have any ice outside
The cleaned core is sliced into five centimeter lengths. Each length
is then melted, and analyzed.
They will be measured one at a time automatically from now on and the
results will show up on this computer as chromatograms
What will the ice reveal-cometary debris...or volcanic sulphates?
I can see that the sulphate peak is increasing when I go to the next
sample. That must come from sulphuric acid in the atmosphere
and that's an indication that there has been a volcanic eruption.
Apparently, it wasn't just any eruption.
And this, what is important, I'll show you here it's the sulphuric
acid and actually these huge amounts of sulphate here and lasting
several years and clearly higher than anything else in this part of
the record corresponds exactly to this around 535. So there's no
doubt there is a major eruption.
The results from Greenland's NGRIP core seem conclusive to Professor
Hammer- lots of sulphates and no cometary debris. But for
the eruption to have had world-wide consequences more evidence was
If you want a climatic important major eruption it must show up with a
large signal in both hemispheres, that is you must see it in
Antarctic ice cores and you must see it in Greenland.
Current information from the Antarctic ice cores is incomplete. But
Professor Hammer has found some evidence that indicates a
volcanic signal in the southern hemisphere.
We have a volcanic signal which lasts several years. We have from an
Antarctic core similar evidence as in Greenland but not as
good, not as well dated but indicating that this volcanic eruption
could have taken place.
There is evidence from both ends of the earth of a sulphur spike
around the mid-sixth century. This strongly indicates the likelihood
of a major volcanic eruption, just at the time Keys is investigating.
And while the idea of a volcano wreaking climatic havoc may seem
far-fetched, it is far more likely than a catastrophic cosmic
Cosmic collisions are extremely, extremely rare. I mean they only
happen once every many, many, many millions of years whereas
volcanic eruptions are occurring - I wont say all the time - but
they're certainly happening every few thousand years you get a really
major volcanic eruption.
Tree rings and ice cores now show that every thousand years or so,
massive climate downturns have occurred. The mid-sixth
century event is one of the most recent.
In fact, what surprises volcanologists is how few volcanic eruptions
there have been in the last hundred years.
One of the amazing things which people sometimes forget, even
scientists, is that our century is one of the most quiet centuries
with respect to volcanism.
Other eras have seen much more volcanic activity, and much more ash in
If you go back in time in 19th century, in 17th century, 18th century,
there's a lot of volcanoes, they come in lumps, say 20, 30
years, a lot of them, they even overlap in the stratosphere, mixing up
Volcanic dust creates spectacular sunsets, which may have influenced
the paintings of Joseph Turner in the 19th century.
And it's not speculation but people do think that Turner's paintings
with his sunsets, it was not the taste of the artist to make them
so red as they were but they were actually painted in a time when the
real sunset looked like that.
We live on this planet with over 200 active volcanos. They may have
been quiet recently, but a really massive eruption can turn the
climate upside down.
To create a dust veil that envelopes the world, the eruption has to
happen near the equator as only equatorial winds can spread dust
over both hemispheres.
But there are over 90 equatorial volcanos.
Could David Keys figure out which one caused the mayhem of the sixth
Keys began to narrow the search for the source of the sixth century
eruption. He turned to ancient writings looking for mention of
such an event. He focused on the area with the world's highest
concentration of large tropical volcanoes. The volcanoes form an arc
straddling Southeast Asia - and Keys found what he was looking for in
I in great excitement started looking to see whether there was any
trace of anything happening in 535 and in fact in February 535
there's a record of a loud bang, a huge thunderous sound coming from
the south west and with this one there was no mention of
lightning or anything, it was merely a rather sort of mysterious entry
in which they only referred to the sort of thunderous noise and
interestingly that points straight towards that Indonesian area where
all those volcanoes are.
The sound must have been extraordinary if the Chinese bothered to
But could the sound of a volcanic eruption have travelled the three
thousand miles from Indonesia to China?
To answer that question, Keys turned back to experts at Los Alamos
Laboratory to explain the physics of long-range sound travel.
We know that near the volcano the sudden explosive eruption provides a
shock wave in the near field and that propagates out, going
out to thousands of miles but as it propagates out you lose the high
frequencies, the shock, very sudden sharp reports of the
volcanoes and all you're left with are the low frequencies that we
measure in what we call infrasound which is generally below 10
cycles per second.
The long range perception of that sound would be very low rumbling,
much like very distant thunder. We're still talking about hearing
it so you're down at the very low end of the human response and so
it's going to be very low bass sounds, rumbling thunder.
The Los Alamos experts had said it was possible - now could Keys find
any written evidence from Indonesia?
Unfortunately, very little writing survives from the area. But once
again Keys found a fascinating clue. Housed in the Royal Palace at
Solo in Central Java is a massive set of 95 manuscript volumes called
the Book of Kings.
It records all of Java's history and was put together in 1869 by a
Royal Courtier called Rangawarsita. Some is folklore and myth but
scholars believe much is based on genuine oral and written history
handed down through the generations.
Rangawarsita was a known to have done extensive fieldwork as it were
travelling all over the island of Java and into Bali where it is
said that he picked up great caches of palm leave manuscripts.
In one volume Rangawarsita describes an extraordinary event that took
place around the middle of the first millennium AD. Javanese
Royal Archivist, Prince Puger (POOJA) reads from the original text:
PRINCE PUGER (in Javanese)
A mighty thunder which was answered by a furious shaking of the earth,
pitch darkness, thunder and lightning and then came forth a
furious gale together with a hard rain, a deadly storm darkening the
entire world, in no time there came a great flood. When the water
subsided it could be seen that the island of Java had been split in
two, thus creating the island of Sumatra.
Had Keys struck gold with the Book of Kings? Geophysicists he
consulted said the story accurately described a major volcanic
eruption and would have been difficult to invent. And, the only major
volcano in the specific area between the islands of Sumatra and
Java indicated by Rangawarsita, is the legendary Krakatoa - the
world's most notorious volcano.
But could Keys prove Krakatoa was the culprit?
Icelandic volcanologist Professor Haraldur Siggurdson, now joined the
He had studied the volcano and knew that Krakatoa's history hid
details of an ancient eruption far bigger than any recorded in
About five years ago when we were doing research on the 1883 volcanic
eruption of Krakatoa we discovered this deposit of a major
eruption and so we became very interested in this deposit but at the
time we didn't have the time and resources to study it in detail
so what we really want to do is ideally find charcoal within this
layer or charcoal immediately above and immediately below it in order
to give us a date of the event.
To give Professor Siggurdson the opportunity to unlock the history of
Krakatoa, and search for the tell-tale charcoal, the film's
producers decided to sponsor an expedition to Java.
The goal - to test Key's theory by dating Krakatoa's major eruption.
Krakatoa is part of a group of uninhabited rainforest islands lying
west of Java and just south of the equator. In addition to the ancient
eruption Siggurdsson is attempting to date, Krakatoa is also the scene
of the most deadly volcanic eruption of recent times.
Well Krakatoa became a notorious volcano in 1883 when the eruption
killed 36,000 people, mostly by tidal waves but also by hot
ash clouds sweeping over the ocean and reaching the land and
incinerating people on the shores around the Sunda Straits, it is a
very difficult area for access, it's remote and the conditions are
harsh here. The environment here is difficult.
The lava fields on the island of Anak Krakatoa will be the first stop
for Professor Siggurdson and his team.
Anak means child, and this child was born out of the 1883 eruption.
In just over a century, it has grown into a thousand foot high
volcano. The lava, rock, and ash it frequently spews continues to
Anak is unpredicatable, and each year it becomes bigger and more
SIGGURDSON / STEVE
Ah, the volcano erupted this morning. A small volcanion explosion as
we call it. It threw out a lot of blocks and ash and created a
plume rising up into the atmosphere.
Now actually when you get up to them
These rocks they are the size of houses 5, 6 metres in diametre. And
these were ejected by the explosions of Anak and they
travelled through the air like a bomb basically and they fall to the
ground and when they hit the ground they create a crater"
SIGURDSSON & STEVE
Now this is about as big as they come! This bomb must be 2 metres high
and, what do you think, about 4 metres wide?
Ja, I would say so
What a big bomb
Beautiful crust though
Hard to imagine this thing flying through the air and landing here
during an explosion. Plonking down and creating this crater that it
sits in ...
... This one is a good one cause you can hide behind it in an
explosion and take shelter.
Lets hope they don't land like this today - it would be very
Anak Krakatoa is a noisy and quarrelsome child.
Only two hours after the team left the island, Anak let rip, hurling
rocks and lava onto the area where the scientists had just stood.
From the safety of the sea they gazed back on one of mother nature's
most impressive fireworks displays.
These pyrotechnics are part of a cycle that has been going on for
hundreds of thousands of years. Krakatoa erupts, islands grow, till
eventually they blow themselves apart.
Siggurdson's task is to journey back into history to try to discover
when Krakatoa's major eruptions have occurred.
For decades scientists have thought that Krakatoa contains a centuries
old secret. Illustrations taken from a 1920's book show a
First there was ancient Krakatoa. which exploded, possibly around 535,
leaving islands behind that, through a series of minor
eruptions, grew into the Krakatoa of 1883.
This in turn blew up, leading to the Krakatoa islands of today.
Siggurdson's last survey of the islands seems to confirm this idea.
Five years ago he charted the ocean floor using sonar. The charts
show the outlines of a caldera - the giant crater left after a massive
There is a structure out here in the ocean, a circular structure which
is much larger in diameter and it is possible that this buried
feature, circular feature that we see here to the north and the east
may in fact be a gigantic ancient caldera of Krakatoa.
Well, we must be right on the edge here ...
Can Siggurdson find the hard evidence to date the major eruption of
He is looking for charcoal which is formed when hot lava instantly
For precise carbon dating, Siggurdson must find charcoal from the
major eruption layer. Failing that, he can narrow the margin by
finding charcoal in the layers above and below.
Well, all set here...Ah, it's a vertical drop.
Still no easy task
It looks like OK all the way... I'm right in the middle of this major
pyroclastic deposit and it's formed by a very large eruption of
Krakatoa, now this is very likely to be the deposit that was created
by a eruption, possibly in the 6th century AD and this is the one
I'd really like to get some charcoal from so we can date this very
important event, now we'd be very lucky to find charcoal but I'm
going to keep digging around here a little bit and see what we've got.
The material in the volcanic debris layers left by Krakatoa spans
hundreds of thousands of years. And there is very little charcoal to
be found. So each precious sample has the potential to narrow down the
date of the major eruption.
Often it's extremely difficult to find charcoal you might think you
would be a lot of burnt wood or carbonised trees here because it's a
tropical environment, but many volcanoes are barren because there's so
much activity that vegetation and the forest doesn't really
get established. We've had a lot of problem with finding charcoal in
this particular deposit but we must keep in mind that there are
only small pieces of the island sticking up above sea level so we have
very small area to prospect.
During the two weeks he was in Krakatoa Professor Siggurdson was only
able to find ten charcoal samples.
He found none big enough to carbon date from the major eruption layer.
However, he did collect good samples from the layer immediately above
it, and from a layer a few levels below.
The samples will now be dated to see whether the major eruption could
have occurred in 535. If not, it is highly unlikely Krakatoa is
the culprit, and David Keys will have to rethink his theory.
6 weeks later the carbon dating is complete. Professor Siggurdson
faxes the results and his analysis to David Keys.
Ah ... It's really good news...
The data shows that the layer immediately above the major eruption
dates from 1215 AD. Carbon from several layers below is from
6,600 BC. Back in his office Siggurdson was able to make a deduction.
Well if we look at this in detail over here then we have this picture
we have 1215 AD right on top here in this deposit. Then we have
the major eruption deposit right underneath it, then we have about
five layers down here we have the charcoal that we dated 6,600
BC so in here we have quite a period of activity and development of
the volcano possibly several thousand. Now that leads us to
think that the event is much closer to 1215 AD as opposed to 6600.
That span still covers the 535AD event so it doesn't rule it out at
all - in fact as a result of this we are focusing more and more in on
that time frame.
He thinks that the lead period, the lead option if you like, for when
the major eruption that we're talking about took place was the first
millennium AD. So although technically it can be anything between 6600
BC and 1300 AD all the other pieces of evidence that he's
got suggest that its actually, we can narrow that down to the period
lets say 0 to 1,000 now 535 is marvelously right in the middle of
that window, so it's looking good.
David Keys's years of detective work suggest to him that there is
overwhelming evidence of a massive volcanic eruption around 535
AD. While some scientists believe there is not enough evidence to
point the finger at Krakatoa - others feel Keys' hypothesis is not
If Krakatoa was the cause of the climatic catastrophe, it had to have
been spectacular explosion.
Such a cataclysmic eruption would have spewed ash and sulfur dioxide
high into the atmosphere, enshrouding the earth in twilight,
causing global chaos, and changing the course of human history.
END PART ONE. START PART II.
535AD has come and gone- the world has been hit by a catastrophe. Now comes bizarre weather - the sun is darkened, skies are turbulent, rain is red and snow falls yellow. There is frost and famine. Seasons are blurred.
In some places great drought destroys the land. In others floods bring chaos.The world will never be the same.
The theory belongs to David Keys. With dogged detective work he has pieced together the story of an ancient catastrophe.
By bringing together evidence from contemporary eye witness accounts and tree rings- he has developed a picture of a lethal climate change that began in the year 535AD and affected most of the world for the next ten to twenty years.
He found three possible causes for the huge amounts of dust, ash and water vapour that must have been hurled into the atmosphere to block out the sun-a comet, an asteroid or a volcano.
The presence of sulphuric acid in arctic and Antarctic ice cores from that period has pointed the finger at a massive volcanic eruption. But where did it occur?
From Chinese and Javanese records, Keys has deduced that the culprit could have been the world's most notorious volcano - Krakatoa.
Volcanologist Prof. Haraldur Siggurdson, took up the chase. He already knew that at some point in the distant past there had been a massive eruption at Krakatoa that had left a huge deposit of dust and ash.
The goal of this trip was to dig up charcoal to carbon date the eruption, but he was only able to find samples from the levels above and below the major eruption layer.
The samples, while not as accurate as Keys would have liked, did indicate that the gigantic eruption could have occurred during the first millenium (thousand years,) AD. But for Krakatoa to have been the cause of the climatic catastrophe, it must have been a spectacular event.
The amount of power generated by this eruption would have been equivalent to around 2,000 million Hiroshima sized nuclear bombs.
The eruption of this ancient Krakatoa is something that mankind has never witnessed perhaps tens, hundreds of times larger than any man-made explosion, any volcano that's ever been witnessed.'
David Keys asked Ken Wohletz, an expert on Krakatoa, to feed all the available data about the 6th century climate change into a super computer to simulate how the explosion began to unfold.
I will start the simulation and show several phases of the eruption.
Wohletz placed the eruption in the Sunda Straits between Java and
Sumatra. By combining tree ring and ice core data with eyewitness
accounts of the dimming of the sun it is possible to estimate how much
material might have been thrown up into the earth's atmosphere. With
that figure it is possible to calculate the scale and power of the
explosion and its associated after effects.
NARRATOR: Wohletz's simulation was used to model Krakatoa's 535 AD big
DAVID KEYS: A giant red hot fountain of molten rock and a vast cloud of
ash would have towered over the countryside. A second crack let seawater
in creating a thirty-mile high fountain of magma. Up to a thousand miles
away ash would have rained down on forests and fields.
KEN WOHLETZ: The towering clouds of steam and gas and ash pierced and
shot upwards and at times when it seemed it could go no higher it would
continue to go high, eventually to the point where it started to block
out the sun in all directions and this grey white cloud would then seem
to sort of move laterally across the sky like a mushroom cloud.
DAVID KEYS: In a way it would have been a sort of natural equivalent of
a nuclear winter.
NARRATOR: The effects would have been global and devastating.
NARRATOR: Wohletz has seen evidence of similar major eruptions farther
back in history. One remnant is a dormant volcano near his lab, high in
the hills of New Mexico.
NARRATOR: The 22 km (16 mile) wide caldera at Valle Grande, New Mexico last
exploded a million years ago. Ash from here landed as far away as
Louisiana. Using the remains of Valle Grande, Wohletz shows how
high-flying volcanic emissions can travel great distances.
KEN WOHLETZ: This is ultrafine volcanic ash formed by phreato-plinian
eruption similar to what we think happened in the 6th century at
Krakatoa. It's so fine that even just a baby's breath of air will keep
it suspended by minute turbulence, it will never fall to the earth as
long as the air is moving, which of course it always does high in the
NARRATOR: Keys believes that in 535AD similar microscopic particles of
ash and sulphur dioxide from Krakatoa would have shrouded the sky in
endless grey. Temperatures would have dropped. Without the full strength
of the sun to heat and evaporate the oceans' surfaces, there would have
been less moisture released into the atmosphere.
DAVID KEYS: As a result there would have been progressively less
rainfall, as a result there were droughts and famines, very often at the
end of major droughts you do get massive floods and that seems to have
been what occurred.
NARRATOR: Confident he understands the natural course of events, Keys
now delves into the catastrophe's effects on human civilization.
DAVID KEYS: I began to think to myself, well disruption as severe as
this has got to have political consequences, it was really the long term
consequences that I was interested in isolating, to see whether one big
event can actually have a knock-on effect throughout history world-wide.
NARRATOR: The idea that nature and climatic change can alter history is
winning increasing respect from academics. In fact, evidence of the huge
impact a volcanic eruption can have already exists from more recent
Less than two hundred years ago another Indonesian volcano, Tambora,
HARALDUR SIGURDSSON: The Tambora eruption of 1815 produced a tremendous
amount of sulphur dioxide that went up into the stratosphere ...in New
England there was a frost recorded every month during the summer, crop
killing frosts, there was starvation in parts of Europe, social unrest.
This triggered both the migrations out of Germany into Russia and
triggered migration out of New England into the Ohio valley and western
United States, so it was a true social upheaval and it's been referred
to as the last great subsistence crisis in the western world and that
was caused by a volcanic eruption.
NARRATOR: David Keys wanted to prove that a more massive and longer
lasting eruption in 535 would have had an even greater effect on world
history. He decided to examine a series of historical puzzles from the
6th century AD.
He looked at events that, from contemporary writings and archaeological
evidence, were known to have taken place - but whose causes had never
been fully explained.
The first was the spread of a terrible disease that brought the mighty
Roman Empire to its knees.
By 535, under the emperor Justinian, the Empire, now based in
Constantinople, was flourishing. It had recovered from the assaults of
the Huns and Goths and had recaptured much of its former territory, and
But in 542 AD, something awful struck at the heart of Roman
civilisation. The horrors were documented by the monk Evagrius.
ACTOR 1 With some people it began in the head, made the eyes bloody and
the face swollen, descended to the throat and then removed them from
Mankind. With others, there was a flowing of the bowels.
NARRATOR: Evagrius was describing the first recorded outbreak of Bubonic
Plague. Could the plague have been tied to the climatic catastrophe? The
Plague is a bacillus bacterium transmitted from infected rats to humans.
The carrier is the humble flea that feeds on rat's blood.
FRANK CLARK This is a flea which has had a blood meal and there's no
plague organisms in its gut and you can see that it's stomach is quite
full and everything's fine. If we look at, if we contrast this with a
flea which has taken up some of the plague bacillus you can see that
there's a blockage here and this is brought about by a reaction between
the bacillus and the flea's gut, now the result of course is that the
flea can't feed properly.
DAVID KEYS They become so ravenously hungry because they begin to starve
in effect, the more they eat ... well they can eat and eat and eat and
they don't satisfy their hunger because their gut is blocked and so they
will jump onto absolutely anything in the chance of getting a free meal.
NARRATOR As the rats themselves die from the plague, the fleas jump to
other animals-including humans-for blood. And then, as Evagrius
describes, the agony begins.
ACTOR1 Some came out in buboes which gave rise to great fevers, and they
would die two or three days later with their minds in the same state as
those who had suffered nothing and with their bodies still robust.
Others lost their senses before dying.
NARRATOR Keys found out from scientists that outbreaks of the plague are
strongly related to changes in climate.
And the sort of changes that followed 535, in particular cooling and
unpredictable rainfall, have a huge impact on the spread of the disease.
Temperatures affect how the plague bacteria form in the flea's gut.
FRANK CLARK Well plague epidemics are temperature related, what happens
is that in the gut of the flea the fibrin clot only forms at temperatures below 25 degrees
Centigrade, above 25 degrees Centigrade the clot doesn't form and any bacillus
is simply passed out of the flea with the faeces.
NARRATOR So cooler temperatures allow the bacteria to flourish, and,
there is new scientific evidence that cooler temperatures also increase
NARRATOR In Colorado, scientists are detailing the climate/plague
connection. They examined thirty years of climate records and plague
infections in the American southwest. Their work shows that cool weather
and additional rainfall significantly increase the prevalence of the
KEN GAGE Now this model only talks about the American southwest but the
general principles we believe are involved here would be that once that
cycle begins you're likely to see a dramatic increase in rodent
populations and when that occurs then you have a greatly increased
likelihood that you'll see these plague outbreaks in the animal
populations and that's the time when it can spill over to the human
NARRATOR That is exactly what happened in the southwest in the early
1980's. Cooler conditions swelled rat populations. Could a similar
increase have occurred in 535 AD? And if so, where? In ancient times the plague
could have come from only two sources.
PETER SARRIS Well according to one of our contemporary sources, the
church historian Evagrius, the plague originated in Ethiopia people have
attempted to argue the plague may have come from China from the Orient
but if that were the case one would have expected it to reach Persia
before it reached the Roman Empire. What we know both scientifically and
historically is that the great lakes area of Central Africa is one of
the oldest foci of plague activities in the world and that it would
appear that the assertion of Evagrius is correct.
NARRATOR Because Central Africa tends to be hot, the disease is kept at
bay. But if the region was affected by the global cooling of 535 and
536, it may have become a lethal breeding ground for the plague.
From Africa, via the trade routes, ships' rats and sailors could easily
bring the plague up the coast, first hitting the port of Alexandria in
Egypt - then north into the heart of the Roman Empire. And Roman greed
for one precious commodity would only accelerate that process. In the
sixth century there was an enormous trade in African Ivory.
MIKE WHITBY Hundreds of tons of ivory are being brought into the empire
every year and being processed for luxury furniture, for luxury objects
which important magistrates would give out as gifts, processed for
diplomatic gifts that the emperor could then use to impress the
neighbors further to the north and further to the west, people who would
never have seen an elephant in their lives.
DAVID KEYS It was essentially the European and Mediterranean greed for
ivory that brought the roof in.
NARRATOR Only seven years after the 535 climatic catastrophe - the ivory
trade allowed the plague to surge into Constantinople.
MIKE WHITBY Its impact was devastating. They had to dispose of over
10,000 bodies a day, week after week after week, throwing them into the
sea off special boats, sticking them in the towers of the city wall
filling up cisterns, digging up orchards.
Soldiers were forced to dig mass graves in which to cast the bodies of those who
had died, the impression is one of chaos and pandemonium.
MIKE WHITBY Constantinople, Europe's biggest city, stank for months
after month after months.
NARRATOR One writer recorded that when the number of dead reached a
quarter of a million, Constantinople officials simply stopped counting.
As people left the stricken city they took the plague to towns, villages
and farms throughout the empire. Untold millions perished.
And Mike Whitby believes the long term implications were disastrous for
MIKE WHITBY The plague struck a mortal blow at the health of the empire,
it also struck a mortal blow at the military vitality of the empire,
partly by killing off potential recruits, it also effect the armies
indirectly, less tax from farming, from agriculture, less money into
imperial coffers, less money to pay troops, less money to hire
mercenaries to supplement the armies.
DAVID KEYS The plague delivered a heavy punch from the south to the
Roman empire, it caused mayhem in the empire, massively reduced
population, they have all sorts of economic, military, social
implications, but there was another punch that hit the empire really
from the east.
NARRATOR This second threat was brewing some three thousand miles away.
The climatic catastrophe was having an extraordinary effect on an
extraordinary people and their livestock. In the isolated plains of
Mongolia - hundreds of miles north of China- something strange was about
to happen. Before 535 AD the overlords of the region were a tribe of
violent barbarian horsemen - the Avars. Chinese writers recorded their
uncivilized way of life.
PETER GOLDEN These are foul smelling barbarians from their point of view
with outrageous habits. The Avars never bathed, never washed their
clothing, they cleaned their dishes by having the women lick them dry,
all of which was simply horrifying to the Chinese.
NARRATOR But in one respect, as both Chinese chronicles and
archaeological finds show, the Avars were years ahead of other cultures.
NARRATOR Finds from archaeological digs all over Avar territories
suggest they were the most advanced horsemen in the world. Their style
of riding, saddles and mouth bits are still in use by Hungarian
plainsmen today. And many believe that the Avars almost certainly
invented the stirrup.
PETER GOLDEN It was this large concentration of horses that gave them a
military edge, the latest in the military technology of that era, the
horses also provided food and sustenance, the Avars drank fermented
mare's milk, an alcoholic beverage. So horses were central to their
NARRATOR But then, following 535 AD, Chinese records, and tree ring
evidence from Mongolia and Siberia suggest that the Mongolian steppe was
crippled by cold and drought. These conditions may have lasted for more
than a decade and may have severely weakened the Avar nation.
By 552 AD the Avars were attacked by the Turks, a people who lived in
the surrounding highlands. They had previously been the Avars' subjects,
but mysteriously the once invincible Avar horsemen were crushed. Up
until now the cause of this sudden reversal of power has never been
identified. But David Keys had an idea.
DAVID KEYS I was very puzzled by this and decided to try and find out
what the mechanism was so I thought well maybe it's something to do with
their economy well the Avar economy was a horse based one, the Turkic
economy was a much more mixed one involving considerable numbers of
cattle. The question came to my mind well was there something about
perhaps the way that a cattle economy works and a horse economy works
that might shed some light on the political events, on the demise of the
Keys contacted John Milne at the Macauley Land Use Centre in Aberdeen,
Scotland. Milne has made a detailed study of how different animals feed and survive.
JOHN MILNE These horses here are actually highland ponies but in terms
of the sort of size they're very similar to what I believe the Avar
horses would have been like. They're quite similar to some of the - at
least in terms of size, in terms of the Mongolian and Kazac horses that
you see now.
NARRATOR To understand the differences between horse-based and
cattle-based economies, Milne picks up some unexpected evidence.
JOHN MILNE Here you can see some horse dung and you can see that it's
very fibrous which demonstrates... and it's made up of fairly large
pieces of fibre which demonstrates that this has not been well digested
by the horse, now if you compared some cattle faeces you would see that
it was much more finely ground up and in fact much better digested than
NARRATOR After the catastrophe, when the climate deteriorated and the
vegetation grew sparse on the Mongolian Steppe, could the contrast in
horses' and cows' digestive systems have made a vital difference and put
the Avars at risk?
JOHN MILNE Cows have a greater efficiency to digest food they also have
the ability to eat a wider range of different herbage types so that they
can eat for example very rank vegetation. In contrast the horses are
less capable of eating rank, really poor quality vegetation than cattle
and in a drought situation you would get eventually to the state where
the horse was not able to eat enough food and because it was not able to
digest it successfully then it would not be able to survive and so in
those circumstances, then the Avars would be very vulnerable.
DAVID KEYS: I was absolutely amazed when I found out that in fact it was
merely the differences between a cow's and a horse's stomach design that
had probably had such a major effect on subsequent history.
NARRATOR Chinese chronicles record how in the defeat at the hands of the
Turks, thousands of Avars were slaughtered or enslaved. Their leader
Most of the surviving Avars began a four thousand mile trek westwards.
Their journey was about to play a huge part in history.
The Avar refugee caravan cut across what is now northern Kazakshstan,
skirted the northern shore of the Caspian Sea, and into the fertile
grasslands to the south of the Carpathian mountains, the area that is
now the Balkans.
And as they travelled, the Avars recovered. Their horse technology was
still superior to anything they found on their route. Once again they
became a conquering people, driving all others before them. Eventually
they reached the fringes of the Roman Empire.
MIKE WHITBY ... they arrive in the late 550s as refugees, within a
decade their ruthless horsemanship, ruthless military ability has come
to dominate all the tribes, all the groups of Slavs, Huns, Germans
living north of the Danube on the empire's frontiers and having imposed
their control over these groups the Avars can then turn their attention
against the empire. The impact of the Avars was particularly devastating
because when they captured fortified cities the fate of the inhabitants
was not pleasant, people would be impaled, if they were lucky they could
be taken off into captivity and exploited as Avar serfs or as cannon
fodder in Avar armies.
NARRATOR The Empire, already weakened by the plague, was constantly
harassed by Avar incursions. At one point even Constantinople was
Rather than take over, the Avars opted for blackmail and extracted vast
amounts of gold from the Empire in return for peace. Some of it can be
seen today in museums - much of it is rumored to lie buried under the
plains of Hungary. Historians believe that over a 50-year period the
Avars netted gold from the Roman Empire that would be worth 11 billion
DAVID KEYS The Avar impact combined with the plague and the economic
problems that ensued destabilised the empire. And at the end of the day
it can all be traced back to the climatic destabilisation of the mid-6th
century which was triggered by the volcanic eruption.
NARRATOR David Keys believed a pattern was emerging that showed huge
political consequences stemming from the catastrophe. By now he had
found fallout in Europe and the East.
He next turned to the Americas to investigate an extraordinary
coincidence of timing - and another historical puzzle where a great city
had fallen without explanation.
In the early sixth century 125 thousand people lived in Teotihuacan in
the Central Mexican Plain.
BILL SANDERS In 500 AD when this city reached its peak it really was
what is called a primate city and by that I mean the second next largest
city is so far below it in size that really you could almost say there
are no other cities - that's an overstatement obviously there were other
cities 10,000 people, 20,000 - but compared to the 125,000 here that was
nothing, so it was the only huge, large city in the entire Central
NARRATOR Then midway through the sixth century, shortly after 535 AD,
things began to go terribly wrong in Teotihuacan. For the past 12 years
Rebecca Storey has been painstakingly studying skeletons of people who
once lived in one of the city's suburbs, called Clahinga. The bones
provide a remarkable history of the population's health.
REBECCA STOREY Well the Clahinga population has adults, it also has
quite a few children and an awful lot of babies.
NARRATOR Storey began to notice that in Teotihuacan's later period, the
population, and in particular the babies, suffered a severe decline in
REBECCA STOREY These kinds of infections that show up on the bone are
long lasting bacterial infections and they're very common on the
children, now babies shouldn't have infections like this, normally they
should be born with relatively good immunological protection from their
parents, their mother but in the case of Clahinga we find lots of babies
with already infectious reactions indicating that the health of the
mothers was so poor that the children are getting sick as well.
REBECCA STOREY ... the problem with the very late population around the
6th century is that overwhelmingly it is babies, children and
individuals under the age of 25, they should not be dying at that
proportion so they start to become 70 per cent of my sample rather than
the much lower 40, 45 per cent that they were in the earlier period. It
is a population that is in great trouble and is probably collapsing.
NARRATOR New scientific evidence suggests that the city's decline
occurred around the middle to late sixth century, a hundred and fifty
years earlier than previously thought. For David Keys, this re-dating is
DAVID KEYS Now in fact one can see that Teotihuacan's fall really comes
straight on the heels of the climatic disaster and I think that there's
a very, very high chance that the two are connected.
NARRATOR There are no existing tree rings or other evidence from Mexico
itself to show whether there was a significant climate change.
However lake deposits in the nearby Yucatan peninsula show a possible 30
year long drought starting in the mid 6th century.
Tree ring evidence from California shows a dramatic reduction in tree
growth from the late 530s onwards. And Chilean ring samples show 540 as
the coldest year of the first millennium.
A study of river levels in Colombia shows that the mid to late 6th
century seemed to be the driest period in the last three thousand years.
The indications throughout the Americas, combined with Rebecca Storey's
findings of malnutrition, suggest to David Keys that Teotihuacan was
gripped by a long lasting drought that devastated the city's food
supply. - A drought Keys believes was directly linked to the climatic
REBECCA STOREY: When something happens to the food supply well that
makes people more subject to getting ill because they're not getting
enough food, then this is a very dry environment, water had to always
have to have been a very important thing and without water you have
great sanitation problems, sanitation would then lead to lots of
diseases circulating through the people and causing mortality and ill
health and that affects the productivity of a city, a city's not
productive when its people are sick and that becomes one of the things
that then they say well no, we don't want to go to Teotihuacan any more
because it's not a good place to be.
NARRATOR According to the latest research, Teotihuacan was finally
destroyed when the people rose up against their leader, smashing the
palaces and setting the city's biggest temple ablaze.
BILL SANDERS Somebody went in there and set fire to all the roof beams
and caused the ceiling and roof to collapse, bringing down the upper
walls and formed a big mound of debris and that's what happened all up
and down the main street of the city. Maybe they decided that elite
class that was making demands on them was asking too much, that the
priests who were supposedly bringing the rain and making the springs
flow were no longer successful because the spring flow was dropping and
rains were diminishing, they lost confidence maybe in the priestly class
DAVID KEYS What appears to happen is that you've got a destabilization,
perhaps some religious and political changes followed by revolution of
some sort and the collapse of the city in a way similar to events in
Europe, indeed in the way that Constantinople, the Roman Empire was
DAVID KEYS 535 disturbs the status quo and allows history to reform
itself all over the world. It really is the interface between the
ancient world and the world we live in today.
NARRATOR In Central Mexico it took 300 years for a new civilisation to
establish itself. Throughout the 6th century, similar stories were
unfolding. Ancient civilisations crumbled - others were just beginning.
And according to David Keys the emergence of the new-- including the
birth of England-can also be linked to the catastrophe.
NARRATOR Britain in the mid-6th century - The Dark Ages. The Romans had
left a hundred years earlier. In the west of the island, native British
tribes - the Celts - fought to stem the tide of Anglo-Saxon invasion.
According to legend it was the time of the death of King Arthur, when
his country turned to a wasteland.
ACTOR 2 As he rode thus through the lands, he found trees down and grain
destroyed and all things laid to waste, as if lightning had struck in
each place. He found half the people in the villages dead.
ACTOR 3 ... the earth no longer produced when cultivated, from that time
on no wheat or other grain grew there, no tree gave fruit and very few
fish were found in the sea, for this reason the two kingdoms were called
But could the wasteland of legend be a distant memory of the 535 catastrophe?
What is certain from British and Irish annals is that the Bubonic plague
that had devastated the Roman Empire finally reached Britain around 547
AD. It arrived on Roman ships that were still trading with Britain.
JOHN HINES This was a significant event in the history of western
Britain and Ireland. Certainly as one goes through the annals one can
find many references to plagues one of them is referred to as the
mortalitas magna, the great mortality, another one is the mortalitas
prima, the first plague like this, this does suggest something special.
DAVID KEYS They'd never experienced the plague before, it was completely
new horror that they knew nothing about, they wouldn't have understood
even what was happening, suddenly people began to develop these terrible
pustules underneath their armpits, in their groins and they would have
died in the most terrible agony.'
NARRATOR According to Keys the plague changed the political shape of
Britain. At that time Britain was divided in two.
In the West lived the native Celtic Britons. The East was occupied by
invaders from Europe - the Angles and the Saxons.
East and West had very little contact with each other.
The Anglo Saxon peoples traded mainly with their former homelands of
Germany and Scandanavia. The Celtic Britons still traded with the Roman
This meant that the Celts were at far greater risk of catching the
plague as it arrived on Roman ships.
DAVID KEYS So by the time you come into the latter part of the century,
the Celtic West and centre have been .. have experienced a huge
population reduction, there's a population vacuum and so Anglo Saxon
peoples are able to move from the east, they're able to move west into
partially empty lands and England was born.
NARRATOR Keys's theory is that England was formed because the healthy
Anglo-Saxons were able to defeat the plague-stricken Britons.
DAVID KEYS One can see 535 as a watershed, where you see the forces
coming into play which create such countries as England, Spain, France,
Japan, the united China.
NARRATOR Now came the final and most controversial turn in David Key's
theory. Could the catastrophe have been linked not just to the emergence
of new nations - but also to the birth of a new world religion - Islam?
NARRATOR This is what is left today of the Marib Dam in Yemen, at the
southern tip of Arabia.
But at the beginning of the sixth century Yemen was the region's
greatest power and it depended on the Marib Dam - its greatest
The Marib was huge - 2,000 feet long, feeding into hundreds of miles of
canals. But within a few years of the 535 event, climatic chaos hit the
region - first drought and then a succession of storms and flash floods
that weakened the dam.
The constant attempts to repair the dam are recorded on contemporary
HUGH KENNEDY What we're looking at here is one of the great inscriptions
that was put on the facade of the dam, really commemorating the
rebuilding of the dam, the repair of the dam, in this case in the year
542 and it's a long inscription describing all the various people who
came and contributed to this and we can pick out right in the centre
here the cartouche the symbol the ruler of the kingdom at this stage,
one Abraha. And there are a whole series of these inscriptions for about
2 or 300 years and then they stop which is very indicative of exactly
what the Arabic sources are telling us, that there was a period when
this dam was broken and was not repaired again.
NARRATOR The Marib dam was ultimately abandoned and its ruin was the
downfall of Yemen. Her people migrated to a new regional power base that
had emerged around Medina, and Mecca-where back in 570 AD, the prophet
Mohammed had been born.
DAVID KEYS It's in precisely that Mecca, Medina area that Mohammed was
based and so it's really the growth of Medina as an important political
centre that is crucial in the early development of Islam.
NARRATOR Keys contends that the climatic chaos weakened the Marib and
began the shift of power to Medina, where Mohammed's family was already
HUGH KENNEDY The prophet's family or the prophet's ancestors had taken
it upon themselves really to provide food, to import food into this area
and provide food for the population and this was one of their claims to
fame and to status.
NARRATOR Mohammed's family's reputation for social concern helped his
ministry take root in a time of drought, famine and the plague-which had
by now made its way to Arabia.
By the end of the 6th century, the people were crying out for an end to
HUGH KENNEDY I think Mohammed's message was attractive because this was
a period of upheaval and disturbance.
DAVID KEYS One's got this whole apocalyptic atmosphere in the ancient
world at that time, there's been war, there's been revolution, the Roman
Empire which had really dominated the political scene for, what, 800
years appeared to be tottering.
HUGH KENNEDY There is a lot of apocalyptic literature from this period,
there are a lot of people saying this is terrible, the world's coming to
an end, how do we interpret these disasters, what are they a sign of and
DAVID KEYS The political certainties of the world were collapsing around
everybody's ears, nobody seemed sure of the future, it was a very very
unsettled time to live. All these things can be traced back to an extent
to the climatic chaos caused by the eruption of 535 and they all feed
into the early evolution of Islam.
NARRATOR While some scientists remain sceptical about the cause and
effects of the 535 event, Key's deductions provide a stern warning about
the global repercussions that could arise from a future climate-altering
DAVID KEYS Now if a volcanic eruption in 535 could wreak all this havoc
and draw the ancient world to a final close and really help lay the
foundations of the world we live in today, what would happen if there
was another massive eruption.
NARRATOR Keys' concern is more than just idle speculation. While no one
can predict exactly when a major eruption will happen, there are a
handful of volcanic monsters lurking underground.
KEN WOHLETZ ...the granddaddy of 'em all is believed to be Yellowstone
Caldera in Wyoming, this caldera is maybe twice the size of any known
modern caldera and its eruptions which have occurred not once, not twice
but three times over the last two million years indicate that it has
devastated northern America several times, besides Long Valley caldera
there's a caldera in California which is also heating up, the ground is
shaking there, there's been a die-off of the forest by noxious gases,
carbon dioxide coming out of the earth, the public is very concerned
about that volcano.
Closer to home for some people would be the area around Naples, Italy,
sure it's famous for Vesuvius which has erupted many times in the past
and potentially will again in the future, there's also a caldera just on
the north side of Naples underlying a metropolitan area of Campi Flegrei
and Pozzuoli where thousands of people live and have lived for a long
time. (Note NOSTRADAMUS predicted the NEW CITY would blow up, a hundred
years earlier. (Napoli translates to new city. POLUS is city, in LATIN,
NA is new)
NARRATOR The last eruption in the Campi Flegri Complex was in 1538. At
that time 3,000 people were killed by the immediate explosion. Today,
400,000 people live within the same area. The whole complex is still
active and capable of a major eruption.
DAVID KEYS ... that would be a total disaster for Italy, a major
disaster for Europe and would no doubt have world-wide climatic
repercussions which would have huge implications for agriculture, huge
implications from a disease point of view world-wide and would no doubt
have the effect of destabilising all sorts of potentially unstable
countries all over the world.
KEN WOHLTEZ ...it would change our climate, it would produce a change in
the pattern of wet and dry cycles for vast portions of the earth, we're
familiar with the El Nino and La Nina effects, this would be even a much
greater perturbation, perhaps lowering the temperature, the global
average temperature several degrees or more.
ERIC JONES The biggest effect for people anywhere is that it's going to
disrupt the food supply, and it's going to take years for the climate to
either go back to normal or for people to change the crops that they use
and the way that they plant them.
MIKE BAILLIE: There may not be food to import from other countries
because they'll need every bit as much or more than we will and if our
agriculture has failed in some way then there just wouldn't be enough to
eat, I mean that to me seems to be the logic of the situation, now in
times past you're right, subsistence economies, if they had low
population densities they could go to the seashore and live on shellfish
and indeed people sometimes did that under really stressful conditions
but you can't do that nowadays, there aren't enough shellfish to go
round. If we were confronted with a global event at any time in the
future it's not quite clear how we would cope.
ALAN FITZSIMMONS The whole infrastructure of civilization would collapse
around us due to the huge environmental catastrophe that would happen
because of the failing of crop production, the darkening of the skies.
HARALDUR SIGURDSSON Communications would be taken out, satellite
communication, aircraft transport would be interrupted severely for a
long period. That type of event will occur in the future.
MIKE BAILLIE Well people start to struggle for resources and basically
that means warfare, in the modern world it's not quite clear exactly
what would happen. You either sit and starve or you get out there and
try and acquire food, there's not much alternative in a really stressful
DAVID KEYS . One of the big lessons from 535 I think is that we're not
talking about a big bang and then the world changes, we're talking about
a big bang and then it takes 100 to 150 years for the new reality to
actually emerge! ...What will happen in the future of course one doesn't
know but I think that historians, economists, politicians should really
pay rather more attention perhaps to the ability of natural forces to
change history than they do at the moment.
<<<THE END > > >
NOW, think of the IMPLICATIONS. What if we have volcanically driven COLD WEATHER?
YELLOWSTONE, KRAKTOA and the others? SLEEPING GIANTS! A PLAGUE?
Foodlessness? WHAT foods can work during a time of no light? Sprouted seeds? A mung
bean and a grow-light? THAT is about the size of it. Seeds, beans
can be stored in cannisters for years. Mung Beans, Garbanzos, Broccoli seeds, etc in air tight cans.
Experts often say a piece of dry ice inside keeps bugs away.