Civilisations' demise blamed on volcano

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AN ENVIRONMENTAL catastrophe caused a devastating change to the global climate in the 6th century, which led to the demise of the world's major ancient civilisations.

The author of a controversial book published today claims to have found evidence of a huge volcanic explosion AD535, which darkened the sky with dust and debris, and blocked out the Sun for 18 months.

David Keys, a historian and the archaeology correspondent of The Independent, says in his book Catastrophe that the environmental havoc unleashed by the volcanic eruption was the darkest event to affect the Dark Ages.

"I believe that the case for a mid-sixth-century worldwide climatic catastrophe is incontrovertible. And I think that the catastrophe was the major worldwide factor in finally bringing the ancient world to a close, and helping to lay the geo-political foundations of our modern one," Keys writes.

Drawing on new interpretations of data from tree-rings and lake sediments, Keys suggests that the volcanic explosion was far bigger than anything that is known to have occurred in the past 2,000 years - including the damaging eruption of the Tambora volcano near Java in 1815.

"The climatic problems were associated with or followed by a period of agricultural failure, increased disease and political destabilisation and rapid change in many areas in the world," Keys said.

The disaster witnessed the demise of the super cities of the ancient world, the end of ancient Persia, the transmutation of the Roman into the Byzantine empire and the collapse of the ancient South Arabian civilisation. Keys also claims that the global change in climate played a crucial role in the fall of the great Mayan city of Tikal and Teotihuacan in Mexico.

The writer suggests that a possible contender for the eruption is the Indonesian volcanic island, Krakatoa.