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The Worst Time to Be Alive

The Worst Time to Be Alive

The world has ended before.

Sure, the entire world has never ended before. Not all at once. Depending on how you define words like “world” and “end.”


There have been plenty of times in history where it sure tasted like the world was ending, where the future didn’t look so bright, where everything might as well have ended for lots and lots of people.

According to historians, the absolute worst time to be alive was 536-550 AD, when three different volcanic eruptions blotted out the sun across most of the planet. During the first one, the sky went dark for 18 months. It snowed in the summer. An ash sky lit a cycle of droughts and floods that upended agriculture. Crops failed all over the world, and then starvation began.

Societies collapsed.

Records from Rome to Japan reference the events. Archaeologists have found a layer of ash virtually everywhere. They’ve also discovered abnormalities in tree rings around the world during that period.

Nobody was spared.

Some historians argue that the years of winter changed the entire course of human history. It sent humanity into a downward spiral that would take a century to recover from. Wouldn’t you know, the first bubonic plague struck right in the middle of that cold, dark, awful era. In fact, historians believe the cooler temperatures brought about by the volcanic eruptions were precisely what facilitated the spread of the plague bacteria.

Historian David Keys was one of the first to connect the volcanic eruptions to pivotal shifts in history. According to his book Catastrophe, these disasters dissolved the ancient world and planted the seeds of medieval civilizations and religions. His claims faced skepticism at first, but more and more evidence has supported his arguments. Now they’re not so controversial. The year 536 basically changed everything.

In a way, the world really did end.

A new one began.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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