Friday, July 21, 2006, 1:50:09 PM, you wrote:
> David Keys suggests that a volcanic eruption around 550CE on an island in
> the South Pacific (New Guinea?) caused the phonemena, including crop
> failures for several years in Europe and the British Isles. Keys calls it a
> mini-ice age.
From British Archaeology, Nov. 1999
Jumbling old events with modern myths
by Ken Dark
ISBN 1-7126-8069-1 hb
Did a huge volcanic eruption in the early 6th century AD cause profound global political, economic, cultural and religious changes? David Keys, a well-known journalist specializing in archaeological news, argues that it did. Drawing extensively on the work of archaeologists, historians, and scholars in other fields, as he makes clear, Keys suggests that an eruption led to a global environmental `catastrophe'. This, he proposes, brought ruin to the Roman Empire, the Avar kingdom in Central Asia and to Teotihuacan in Mesoamerica, and led to the formation of later England, France, China and Japan.
It is a bold thesis, and one which touches on current fears about environmental problems as a global threat. Moreover, while aspects of the argument are not entirely new (for example, the 6th century environmental crisis is credited to Mike Baillie's work), at first sight Keys offers a lot of supporting evidence for his broader interpretation. However, much of the apparent evidence presented in the book is highly debatable, based on poor sources or simply incorrect.
The chapters on Britain illustrate the limitations of the book as a whole. Sites (such as Mothecombe) are mislocated and archaeological evidence (as at Dinas Emrys) misquoted in detail. Unfounded assertions about population (as at Killibury) and desertion (as at Chun) abound. Important sites which might cause problems for the argument (for example, Dinas Powys) are absent altogether. As for textual evidence, pseudo-historical and historical material is intermingled, and few specialists will accept that late medieval `Arthurian' literature contains any reliable information about the 6th century, the topic of a whole chapter of this book.
Nonetheless, both the global scope and the emphasis on the 6th century AD as a time of wide-ranging change are commendable, and the book contains some fascinating and obscure information which will be new to many. However, it fails to demonstrate its central thesis and does not offer a convincing explanation for the many changes discussed.
Dr Ken Dark is an early medieval specialist at the University of Reading
Doug Weller Moderator, sci.archaeology.moderated
Director and Moderator The Hall of Ma'at http://www.thehallofmaat.com
Doug and Helen's Dogs: http://www.dougandhelen.com
Doug's Archaeology Site: http://www.ramtops.co.uk