The worst year to be alive

Northern lights, Milky Way and erupting volcano. Source:

You are probably thinking that it is 2020, right?

Well, even if 2020 is a particularly shitty year, 536 was definitely worst!

According to dr. McCormick 536 was the worst year to be alive. Starting from 536, and for 18 months, Europeans and Asians did not see the sun: a fog obscured the Sun, which brightness was similar to the one of the moon. During the summer of 536 snow fell in China and millions of people died because of famine in the following years. In 541 the bubonic plague spread rapidly, killing one third of the human population.

By analyzing ice from a Swiss glacier, scientists figured out what happened more than 15 centuries ago. In 536, a great volcanic eruption happened in Iceland. The eruption released huge amount of dust into the atmosphere, which obscured the sun. When things started to improve, two other eruptions happened in 540 and 547, slowing down the recovery of normal seasons.

The study of ice revealed also that this dark period led to economic stagnation until 640. Ice slices from that year where rich in lead. Silver mining resumed, and silver was smelted from lead ore, indicating a recovery of the medieval economic system.

Personally, I think that science is awesome! How cool is that by studying ice from a Swiss glacier, scientists can understand what happened 1500 years ago?!

This research has also made me think about the impact of human activities on nature (see a previous article here). Nature and ice register everything, even after 1500 years, and without written evidence, we can know exactly in which year the economic start recovering because of human activities releasing lead into the atmosphere.


Loveluck et al., “Alpine ice-core evidence for the transformation of the European monetary system, AD 640–670”, (2018),

Gibbons, “Why 536 was ‘the worst year to be alive’”, (2018) , 10.1126/science.aaw0632

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s