Climate Catastrophes Usher in the Dark Ages

By S. Fred Singer

To cool the current overheated concern about global warming one must study the past. History books tell us about a major climate catastrophe that ushered in the Dark Ages, a cooling of the climate between 400 and 600 AD. As reported by The Times of London, this was the big story in a recent meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Prof. Michael Baillie of Queens University (Belfast) School of Archeology and Paleo-Ecology told of studies that verify the major cooling, based on tree ring data. Independent records from ocean sediments by scientists from the renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts also show an unusual cooling during the same period in the North Atlantic region. This suggests that the cold spell may have covered the entire Northern Hemisphere or even the globe.

The impact of the cooling was fearful. Frosts devastated agriculture and made a malnourished population a ready target for disease. The bubonic plague killed millions, up to 10,000 a day. The Emperor Justinian caught the disease, forcing him to abandon his plans for a new Roman invasion of Gaul and Britannia. Pope Gregory the Great in Rome could not quell the mayhem, as the Ostrogoths seized Italy and the Persians captured Antioch, delivering decisive blows to the empire of Byzantium .

There was turmoil elsewhere also. In post-Roman Britain, King Arthur was killed in battle. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that the sun was eclipsed and the stars appeared late in the morning. The cold cycle caused famine in Ireland where Celtic Christianity opened its great schism with Rome over when to celebrate Easter. The Celtic church lost.

What caused this climate catastrophe? Opinions are divided. Some documents refer to huge earthquakes that killed a quarter million people in the Eastern Mediterranean and might have released volcanic eruptions that cooled the climate.

Another hypothesis posits that a giant comet hit the earth, causing violent explosions that put dust into the atmosphere and produced a dramatic cooling. This view is supported by Dr. Baillie, based on the work of Oxford astrophysicist Victor Clube. His calculations show a major commentary bombardment between 400 and 600 AD by meteor showers from the breakup of the comet Biela. Dr. Bailey also cited the death of King Arthur, at about 540 AD, which Celtic myths link to fire from the sky. But whether these stories support the comet theory of cooling is hard to say.

One thing is certain though: The climate was simply awful and its cooling effects on humanity were disastrous, causing starvation and disease. After 600 AD, the climate recovered, reaching a warming peak around 1000 AD when Vikings were able to practice agriculture in Greenland and establish settlements on the North American continent. Prosperity returned to Europe; great cathedrals were started; and thousands were released from agriculture to join in the Crusades.

History’s lesson is plain to see: We should be fearing a colder climate not a warmer one.

S. Fred Singer is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, and former Director of the US Weather Satellite Service. He is president of the Arlington, VA-based Science & Environmental Policy Project <>

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.