Windy and cool in The Gong as I note something amazing from London

But meanwhile over in the Blue Mountains:

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Nothing compared to what this must have been like: Mass grave in London reveals how volcano caused global catastrophe.

When archaeologists discovered thousands of medieval skeletons in a mass burial pit in east London in the 1990s, they assumed they were 14th-century victims of the Black Death or the Great Famine of 1315-17. Now they have been astonished by a more explosive explanation – a cataclysmic volcano that had erupted a century earlier, thousands of miles away in the tropics, and wrought havoc on medieval Britons.

Scientific evidence – including radiocarbon dating of the bones and geological data from across the globe – shows for the first time that mass fatalities in the 13th century were caused by one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the past 10,000 years.

Such was the size of the eruption that its sulphurous gases would have released a stratospheric aerosol veil or dry fog that blocked out sunlight, altered atmospheric circulation patterns and cooled the Earth’s surface. It caused crops to wither, bringing famine, pestilence and death…

Mass deaths required capacious burial pits, as recorded in contemporary accounts. In 1258, a monk reported: "The north wind prevailed for several months… scarcely a small rare flower or shooting germ appeared, whence the hope of harvest was uncertain… Innumerable multitudes of poor people died, and their bodies were found lying all about swollen from want… Nor did those who had homes dare to harbour the sick and dying, for fear of infection… The pestilence was immense – insufferable; it attacked the poor particularly. In London alone 15,000 of the poor perished; in England and elsewhere thousands died."

There does not seem to have been any explanation at the time; it was probably assumed to be a punishment from God. London’s population at the time was around 50,000, so the loss of 15,000 would have radically changed the city…

See also Cataclysmic volcano wreaked havoc on medieval Britain (Museum of London site).

6 August 2012

The results of the largest archaeological investigation ever to have taken place in London are to be published by MOLA. Some 10,500 human skeletons dating from the 12th century to the 1500s were discovered by archaeologists a decade ago. It has taken ten years to analyse the results of this colossal discovery. Amongst the orderly burials were a number of mass burial pits that had scientists baffled.

Through radiocarbon dating, the mass burials were accurately dated but the timings didn’t marry with devastating events know to have taken place in the medieval period, like the Black Death or the Great Famine. Osteologist Don Walker set about solving the mystery. He turned to contemporary documentary sources, in which he found mention of ‘heavy rains’¹, ‘there was a failure of the crops; upon which failure, a famine ensued…many thousand persons perished’².

Whilst examining a possible cause for these climatic changes, Don uncovered references to a cataclysmic volcano that erupted at this time. It is believed to have erupted somewhere in the tropics, perhaps El Chichón in Mexico or Quilotoa in Ecuador. Its force was such that ice-core data is evident in both hemispheres. The effects of this massive eruption were felt across the globe, as a ‘dry fog’³ descended across the world, cooling the Earth’s surface.

Don Walker, MOLA Osteologist, said: “This is the first archaeological evidence for the 1258 volcano and is an excellent example of the complexity of knowledge that can be gained from archaeological evidence. It is amazing to think that such a massive global natural disaster has been identified in a small area of East London. MOLA work on such a wide range of projects but I am always surprised when incredible discoveries like this one come to light.”

Bill McGuire, Professor of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London, said: “This was certainly a prodigious volcanic event; one of the largest in the last few thousand years. Consequently, it is not really a surprise that one legacy should be a serious increase in mortality in London. Through their influence on climate, major volcanic blasts can affect any locality on the planet, and an eruption in distant Indonesia – which is one of a number of host candidates for the 1257/8 eruption – could without doubt reach out to take lives in the UK’s capital.”

Amazing stuff!

Allusion to this may be found in Chronicles of the Mayors and Sheriffs of London 1257-8:

In this year, there was a failure of the crops; upon which failure, a famine ensued, to such a degree that the people from the villages resorted to the City for food; and there, upon the famine waxing still greater, many thousand persons perished; many thousands more too would have died of hunger, had not corn just then arrived from Almaine….

That’s from British History Online — well worth exploring.

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