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Archaeological Institute of America, Denver Chapter Lecture
Historic LoDo: Dr. Payson Sheets of the University of Colorado will present a lecture entitled “What was that horrible thing that happened around the world in AD 536?”
The few literate cultures in AD 536 recorded intense cold, crop failures, starvation, and deaths. About 75% of the people in a northern Chinese kingdom died. Similar problems were reported around the Mediterranean. Tree rings in North America, Europe, and Asia record 15 years of cold beginning in AD 536. Ice cores in Greenland and in Antarctica record a dramatic increase in sulfur in the same year, indicating a vol-canic eruption was the cause and not an asteroid impact. Since 1969 I have been investigating the eruption of Ilopango volcano in El Salvador, at 14° north latitude. I have struggled with radiocarbon dating, but recent improvements and work with colleagues have indicated the eruption must have oc-curred more recently than the 5th century. It appears the Ilo-pango eruption is the most likely candidate for the worst worldwide disaster in the past few millennia. With the contri-butions from multiple disciplines, it appears we are moving toward understanding what happened in AD 536 and after-ward.