"It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year."

By Perri Ormont Blumberg
December 13, 2018
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Life doesn't always throw us the easiest deck of cards. Sometimes, we struggle to make it through a crisis, or wonder when things will take a turn for the better. But chances are, the hand you face isn't as unrelentingly brutal as what was once referred to as the Dark Ages, specifically the year of 536.

And what made this time so awful? Medieval historian Micahel McCormick, a Harvard archaeologist and chair of the Harvard University Initiative for the Science of the Human Past, explained to Science: "It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year," McCormick speaks of the ill-fated year of 536.

In addition to a "mysterious fog" overtaking Europe, the Middle East, and certain regions in Asia, temperatures dropped, crops flopped, and many individuals around the world went starving. The world just couldn't catch a break, it appears. "The Irish chronicles record 'a failure of bread from the years 536–539.' Then, in 541, bubonic plague struck the Roman port of Pelusium, in Egypt. What came to be called the Plague of Justinian spread rapidly, wiping out one-third to one-half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire and hastening its collapse, McCormick says," as recapped by Science writer Ann Gibbons. Eventually, times took a turn for the better, as it is believed that 640 ushered in a spike in silver mining due to the economy stabilizing after the European plague.

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Indeed, some days may feel long and life isn't always easy, but the advent of modern medicine and the life-saving technologies that now exist compared to the blighted year of 536 is surely worth a moment of gratitude.