Something catastrophic occurred on Earth 1,500 years ago that may have led to the Dark Ages and coincided with the end of the Roman Empire and the death of King Arthur, a Northern Irish scientist said today.
It could have been a bombardment of cometary debris or the eruption of a super volcano.
But whatever it was, it is clearly etched in the chronology of tree rings from around the world, according to Professor Mike Baillie of Queen’s University in Belfast.
Written in Trees, Not Books
The global environmental event that occurred around A.D. 540 is not recorded in any history books. But the tree ring chronologies compiled from samples of trees, some preserved in bogs, which date back thousands of years, single out something that was quite extraordinary.
“It was a catastrophic environmental downturn that shows up in trees all over the world,” Baillie told a news conference at the British Association for the Advancement of Science conference. “This event is clear in the tree ring records.”
The height of a tree is indicative of the quality of soil it is growing in but the rings hold clues about past climate conditions and have been used to date events in the past.
They correctly recorded the year without a summer in the North American region in 1816 and the eruption of various volcanoes around the world.
Baillie believes the slowdown of tree growth recorded in the rings around A.D. 540 was due to a bombardment of cometary debris which happened around the time of King Arthur’s death, the end of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages.
Sky on Fire
Traditional myths recorded in 13th-century texts refer to a comet in Gaul around A.D. 540, when the sky seemed to be on fire, according to Baillie.
“These myths hint strongly at a bombardment vector for the environmental downturn but are almost universally dismissed as fiction or fantasy by academics,” he said.
Baillie is appealing to historians to accept that something terrible happened around 540 and to find a record of it.
“I am calling for a debate by scientists and historians on how to approach the evidence for catastrophic events of this kind which were previously not known to have taken place,” he added.