2018 has been a rough year for many. But we can be grateful for at least one thing this Thanksgiving: It’s been worse.
For one thing, there was a giant volcanic eruption in Iceland, with a resulting ash cloud that kept the northern hemisphere in the dark for 18 months, dropped temperatures to their coldest period and led to mass crop failure — and, of course, starvation. More volcanic eruptions followed. (The more recent Icelandic and Hawaiian volcanic eruptions seem relatively tame in comparison. Flight delays are annoying, but not catastrophic.)
The combination naturally led to a bleak economic environment, as starvation and disease took their toll on the population. While things improved about three decades later, they didn’t fully pick back up until about 640 — a full century later — when a “total economic transformation” took hold, according to Professor Christopher Loveluck, a co-author of a new study and educator at the U.K.’s University of Nottingham. The study, published last week in Antiquity, analyzes glacial ice from the Swiss Alps for evidence of atmospheric change and its effect on the financial landscape of early Europe, confirming scientists’ understanding of the unfortunate circumstances of 536 and subsequent economic and social shifts.