Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-6c8bd87754-trcsx Total loading time: 0.359 Render date: 2022-01-20T20:34:49.398Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Article contents

Twilight of the gods? The ‘dust veil event’ of AD 536 in critical perspective

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2015

Bo Gräslund
Affiliation:
Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Uppsala, Box 626, SE-751 26 Uppsala, Sweden (Email: bo.graslund@arkeologi.uu.se)
Neil Price
Affiliation:
Department of Archaeology, University of Aberdeen, St Mary's, Elphinstone Road, Aberdeen AB24 3UF, UK (Email: neil.price@abdn.ac.uk); and Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Extract

The popular notion of social collapse consequent on natural catastrophe is here elegantly disentangled in a study of the dark summer of AD 536. Leaving aside the question of its cause, the authors show there is good scientific evidence for a climatic downturn, contemporary with good archaeological evidence for widespread disruption of settlement and population displacement in the northern latitudes. They then navigate through the shifting shadows of myth, and emerge with a welcome prize: strong circumstantial reasons for recognising that this widespread horror, like so many others, did leave its imprint on Scandinavian poetry and sculpture.

Type
Research article
Copyright
Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd. 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

Andersen, S. T. & Berglund, B. E.. 1994. Maps for terrestrial non-tree pollen (NAP) percentages in north and central Europe 1800 and 1450 yr BP. Paläoklimaforschung 12: 119134.Google Scholar
Andersson, K. 2011. Guldålder. Uppsala: Balderson.Google Scholar
Andrén, A. 2012. Fragments of world-views. Archaeological studies of Old Norse cosmology. Lund: Nordic Academic Press.Google Scholar
Arjava, A., 2006. The mystery cloud of the year 536 CE in the Mediterranean sources. Dumbarton Oaks Papers 2005: 7394.Google Scholar
D'Arrigo, R., Jacoby, G., Frank, D., Pederson, N., Cook, E., Buckley, B., Nachin, B., Mijiddorj, R. & C. Dugarjav. 2001a. 1738 years of Mongolian temperature variability inferred from a tree-ring width chronology of Siberian pine. Geophysical Research Letters 28(3): 543–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
D'Arrigo, R., Frank, D., Jacoby, G. & Pederson, N.. 2001b. Spatial response to major volcanic events in or about AD 536, 934 and 1258: frost rings and other dendrochronological evidence from Mongolia and northern Siberia. Climatic Change 49: 239–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Axboe, M. 1999. The year 536 and the Scandinavian gold hoards. Medieval Archaeology 43: 186–88.Google Scholar
Axboe, M. 2001a. Året 536. Skalk 4: 2832.Google Scholar
Axboe, M. 2001b. Amulet pendants and a darkened sun, in Magnus, B. (ed.) Roman gold and the development of the early Germanic kingdoms: 119136. Stockholm: Royal Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities.Google Scholar
Axboe, M. 2004. Die Goldbrakteaten der Völkerwanderungszeit: Herstellungsprobleme und Chronologie. Berlin: de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Axboe, M. 2005. Guld og guder, in Capelle, T. & Fischer, C. (ed.) Ragnarok: Odins verden: 4156. Silkeborg: Silkeborg Museum.Google Scholar
Axboe, M. 2007. Brakteatstudier. Copenhagen: Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries.Google Scholar
Baillie, M.G.L. 1994. Dendrochronology raises questions about the nature of the AD 536 dust-veil event. The Holocene 4/94: 212–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baillie, M.G.L. 1995. A slice through time. Dendochronology and precision dating. London: Batsford.Google Scholar
Baillie, M.G.L. 1998. Bronze Age myths expose archaeological shortcomings? A reply to Buckland et al. 1997. Antiquity 72: 425–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baillie, M.G.L. 1999. Exodus to Arthur. Catastrophic encounters with comets. London: Batsford.Google Scholar
Baillie, M.G.L. 2008. Proposed re-dating of the European ice core chronology by seven years prior to the 7th century AD. Geophysical Research Letters 35: L15813. doi: 10.1029/2008GLO34755.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baillie, M.G.L. 2010. Volcanoes, ice-cores and tree-rings: one story or two? Antiquity 84: 202215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barnish, S.J.B. (ed. & tr.) 1992. The Variae of Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Behre, K.-E., Brande, A., Küster, H. & Rösch, M.. 1996. Germany, in Berglund, B. E., Birks, J. B. & Ralska-Jasiewiczowv, M. (ed.) Palaeoecological events during the last 15 000 years: 507551. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
Berglund, B. E. 2003. Human impact and climate changes-synchronous events and a causal link? Quaternary International 105/1: 712.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Berglund, B. E., Birks, J. B. & Ralskajasiewiczowv, M. (ed.). 1996. Palaeoecological events during the last 15 000 years. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
Bernharđdsson, H. 2007. Old Icelandic ragnarök and ragnarökkr , in Nussbaum, A. J. (ed.) Verba docenti. Studies in historical and Indo-European linguistics presented to Jay H. Jasanoff by students, colleagues, and friends: 2538. Ann Arbor (MI): Beech Stave Press.Google Scholar
Bork, H. R., Bork, H., Dalchow, C., Faust, B., Pion, H. P. & Schatz, T.. 1998. Landschaftsentwicklung in Mitteleuropa. Wirkungen des Menschen auf Landschaften. Gotha: Klett Perthes.Google Scholar
Briffa, K. R., Bartholin, T., Eckstein, D., Jones, P. D., Karlén, W., Schweingruber, F. H. & Zetterberg, P.. 1990. A 1400-hundred tree-ring record of summer temperatures in Fennoscandia. Nature 346: 434–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Briffa, K. R., Jones, P. D., Bartholin, T., Eckstein, D., Schweingruber, F. H., Karlén, W., Zetterberg, P. & Eronen, M.. 1992. Fennoscandian summers from AD 500: temperature changes on short and long time scales. Climatic Dynamics 7: 111–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Buckland, P., Dugmore, A. J. & Edwards, K. J.. 1997. Bronze Age myths? Volcanic activity and human response in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic regions. Antiquity 71: 581–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Büntgen, U., Tegel, W., Nicolussi, K., Mccormick, M., Frank, D., Trouet, V., Kaplan, J. O., Herzig, F., Heussner, K-U., Wanner, H., Luterbacher, J. & Esper, J.. 2011. 2500 years of European climate variability and human susceptibility. Science doi: 10.1126/science.1197175.Google Scholar
Carlsson, D. 1979. Kulturlandskapets utveckling på Gotland: en studie av jordbruks- och bebyggelseförändringar under järnåldern. Stockholm: Stockholm University.Google Scholar
Diamond, J. 2005. Collapse: how societies choose to fail or survive. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
Drancourt, M., Signoli, M., Dang, L. V., Bizot, B., Roux, V., Tzortis, S. & Raoult, D.. 2007. Yersinia pestis orientalis in remains of ancient plague patients. Emerging infectious diseases. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/EID/content/13/2/332.htm (accessed 23 Jan 2012).Google Scholar
Dull, R., Southon, J. R., Kutterolf, S., Freundt, A., Wahl, D. & Sheets, P.. 2010. Did the TBJ Ilopango eruption cause the AD 536 event? American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting Abstracts. Bibcode 2010AGUFM. V13C2370D.Google Scholar
Fagan, B. 2000. The Little Ice Age: how climate made history 1300-1850. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Fagan, B. 2004. The long summer: how climate changed civilization. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Fallgren, J.-H. 2006. Kontinuitet och förändring: bebyggelse och samhälle på Öland, 200-1300 eKr. Uppsala: Uppsala University Press.Google Scholar
Faulkes, A. (tr.) 1987. Snorri Sturluson, Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Fouqué, F. 1998 [1879]. Santorini and its eruptions. Baltimore (MD): Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Friedrich, W. L. 2009. Santorini: volcano, natural history, mythology. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.Google Scholar
GöThberg, H. 2007. Mer än bara hus och gårdar, in Göthberg, H. (ed.) Hus och bebyggelse i Uppland (Arkeologi E4 i Uppland - studier 3): 403447. Uppsala: Uppland Museum.Google Scholar
Gräslund, B. 2004. Äldre ortnamn och forntida bebyggelse. Ortnamnssällskapet i Uppsala Årsskrift 2004: 1138.Google Scholar
Gräslund, B. 2008. Fimbulvintern, Ragnarök och klimatkrisen år 536-537 e. Kr. Saga och Sed 2007: 93123.Google Scholar
Gräslund, B. 2009. Ekki nýtr sólar. När himlen färgades röd av gudarnas blod, in Ney, A., Williams, H. & Ljungqvist, F. Charpentier (ed.) Áaustrvega. Saga and East Scandinavia. Preprint papers of the 14th International saga Conference, Uppsala, 9th-15th August 2009: 318–26. Uppsala: Uppsala University.Google Scholar
Grattan, J. & Torrence, R. (ed.). 2007. Living under the shadow: the cultural impacts of volcanic eruptions. Walnut Creek (CA): Left Coast Press.Google Scholar
Grudd, H. 2006. Tree rings as sensitive proxies of past climate change. Stockholm: Stockholm University.Google Scholar
Grudd, H., Briffa, K., Karlén, W., Bartholin, T., Jones, P. D. & Kromer, B.. 2002. A 7400-year tree-ring chronology in northern Swedish Lapland: natural climatic variability expressed on annual to millennial timescales. The Holocene 12(6): 657–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gunn, J. D. (ed.) 2000. The years without summer. Tracing AD 536 and its aftermath (British Archaeolaogical Reports International Series 872). Oxford: Archaeopress.Google Scholar
Herschend, F. 2009. The Early Iron Age in south Scandinavia: social order in settlement and landscape. Uppsala: Uppsala University Press.Google Scholar
Holtsmark, A. 1968. Ragnarök. Kulturhistorisk Lexikon för Nordisk Medletid 13: 650–51.Google Scholar
Hultgård, A. 2004. Fimbulvintern -ett mytmotiv och dess tolkning. Saga och Sed 2003: 5169.Google Scholar
Inglis, R. H. & Pryor, J. E. (ed.). 2009. Beyond determinism? Engagement and response in human-environment interactions. Archaeological Review from Cambridge 24(2).Google Scholar
Jansen, E. & Koç, N.. 2000. Century to decadal scale records of Norwegian sea surface temperature variations of the past two millennia. PAGES Newsletter 8(1): 1314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kaul, F. 2004. Bronzealderens religion: studier af den nordiske bronzealders ikonografi. Copenhagen: det Kongelige Nordiske Oldskriftselskab.Google Scholar
Keys, D. 1999. Catastrophe: an investigation into the origins of the modern world. London: Century.Google Scholar
Klein, N. 2007. The shock doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
Knappett, C., Rivers, R. & Evans, T.. 2011. The Theran eruption and Minoan palatial collapse: new interpretations gained from modelling the maritime network. Antiquity 85: 10081023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Larsen, L. B., Vinther, B. M., Briffa, K. R., Melvin, T.M., Clausen, H. B., Jones, P. D., Siggard-Andersen, M.L., Hammer, C. U., Eronen, M., Grudd, H., Gunnarsson, B. E., Hantemirov, R.M., Naurzbaev, M. M. & Nicoluassi, K.. 2008. New ice core evidence for a volcanic cause of the AD 536 dust-veil. Geophysical Research Letters 35: doi: 10.1029/2007GL032450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lindqvist, S. 19411942. Gotlands Bildsteine. Stockholm: Wahlström & Wikstrand.Google Scholar
Little, L. K. (ed.) 2006. Plague and the end of Antiquity: the pandemic of 541-750. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Löwenborg, D. 2010. Excavating the digital landscape: GIS analyses of social relations in central Sweden in the 1s t millennium AD. Uppsala: University of Uppsala Press.Google Scholar
Löwenborg, D. In press. An Iron Age shock doctrine. The 536-7 AD event as a trigger of large-scale social change in the Mälaren valley area. Journal of Archaeology and Ancient History.Google Scholar
McAnany, P. & Yoffee, N. (ed.). 2010. Questioning collapse: human resilience, ecological vulnerability and the aftermath of empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Müllenhoff, K. 1873. Um Ragnaröckr. Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum 16.Google Scholar
Nerman, B. 1958. Hur gammal är Völuspá? Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi 73(1-2): 14.Google Scholar
Nerman, B. 1963. Völuspá 61:3 gullnor tofflor. Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi 78(1-4): 122–25.Google Scholar
Piccardi, L. & Masse, B. (ed.). 2007. Myth and geology. London: Geological Society.Google Scholar
Pomeroy, A. J. 2008. ‘Then it was destroyed by the volcano’. The ancient world in film and on television. London: Duckworth.Google Scholar
Rampino, M. R., Self, S. & Stothers, R. B.. 1988. Volcanic winters. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 16: 7399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Renck, A. M. 2008. Erövrad mark -erövrat släktskap, in Olausson, M. (ed.) Hem till Jarlabanke: jord, makt och evigt liv i östra Mälardalen under järnålder och medeltid: 91111. Lund: Historiska Media,Google Scholar
Rosen, W. 2006. Justinian's flea: plague, empire and the birth of Europe. London: Pimlico.Google Scholar
Rundkvist, M. 2011. Myths and meteorites. Minerva 22(2): 1416.Google Scholar
Salzer, M. W. & Hughes, M. K.. 2007. Bristlecone pine tree rings and volcanic eruptions over the last 5000 yr. Quaternary Research 67: 5768.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Solberg, B. 2000. Jernalderen i Norge. ca. 500 f. Kr.- 1030 e. Kr. Oslo: Cappelen Forlag.Google Scholar
Stenberger, M. 1933. Öland under äldre järnåldern: en bebyggelsehistorisk undersökning. Stockholm: Kungl. Vitterhets-, historie- och antikvitetsakademien.Google Scholar
Stenberger, M. 1955. Vallhagar: a Migration Period settlement on Gotland, Sweden. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.Google Scholar
Stothers, R. B. 1984. Mystery cloud of AD 536. Nature 307: 344–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stothers, R. B. 1999. Volcanic dry fogs, climate cooling, and plague pandemics in Europe and the Middle East. Climate Change 42(4): 713–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stothers, R. B. & Rampino, M. R.. 1983. Volcanic eruptions in the Mediterranean before AD 630 from written and archaeological sources. Journal of Geophysical Research 88: 6357–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tainter, J. A. 2008. Collapse, sustainability, and the environment: how authors choose to fail or succeed. Reviews in Anthropology 37(4): 342–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Torrence, R. & Grattan, J. (ed.). 2002. Natural disasters and cultural change. London & New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Traufetter, F., Oerter, H., Fischer, H., Weller, R. & Miller, H.. 2004. Spatio-temporal variability in volcanic sulphate deposition over the past 2 kyr in snow pits and firn cores from Amundsenisen, Antartica. Journal of Glaciology 50: 137–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vervruggen, C., Denys, L. & Kiden, P.. 1996. Belgium, in Berglund, B. E., Birks, J. B. & Ralska-Jasiewiczowv, M. (ed.) Palaeoecological events during the last 15 000 years: 553–74. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
Vitaliano, D. 1968. Geomythology: the impact of geological events on history and legend with special reference to Atlantis. Journal of the Folklore Institute 1: 530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Warburton, D. A. (ed.) 2009. Time's up! Dating the Minoan eruption of Santorini. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.Google Scholar
Welinder, S. 1975. Prehistoric agriculture in eastern middle Sweden. Lund: Gleerup.Google Scholar
Wiechmann, I. & Grube, G.. 2005. Detection of Yersinia pestis DNA in two early medieval skeleton finds from Aschheim (Upper Bavaria, 6th century AD). American Journal of Physical anthropology 126: 4855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zachrisson, T. 2011. Property and honour-social change in central Sweden, 200-700 AD mirrored in the area around Old Uppsala, in Boye, L., Ethelberg, P., Lutz, L. H., Kleingärtner, S., Kruse, P., Matthes, L. & Sørensen, A. B. (ed.) Arkæologi i Slesvig: det 61. Internationale Sachsensymposion 2010: 141–56. Neumünster: Wachholz.Google Scholar
36
Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Twilight of the gods? The ‘dust veil event’ of AD 536 in critical perspective
Available formats
×

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Twilight of the gods? The ‘dust veil event’ of AD 536 in critical perspective
Available formats
×

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Twilight of the gods? The ‘dust veil event’ of AD 536 in critical perspective
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *