This Is The Worst Year To Have Been Alive According To Science

There are plenty of recent contenders for "worst year ever." 2008 brought us a nigh-unthinkable financial crisis. In 2016, we lost Prince. Worse still, in 1989, we witnessed the release of the Batman soundtrack, featuring the music of Prince. And then there was 2020, a period of time widely referred to as "the Batman soundtrack of years."

But according to Science Magazine, none of them hold a flatulence-scented candle to 536 CE, which medieval historian Michael McCormick describes as "the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year," at least as far as folks in Europe and a lot of Asia were concerned. Shockingly, the whole to-do wasn't started by the plagues or crusades generally associated with the historical ballpark of the millennium in question. In point of fact, this age of cultural and financial stagnation was brought about by the meekest of all the Earth's forces: the humble gigantic volcano.

536: when everything went ash over teakettle

"For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year." That's a quote from a Byzantine historian by the name of Procopius, according to Wired. He was describing the fallout from a recently pinpointed volcanic eruption in early 536. Thanks to the massive amounts of ash and debris thrown into the air, summer temperatures dropped between 1.5 and 2.5°C, instigating a period of crop failures. Two more eruptions, believed to have occurred in 540 and 547, kept the good times rolling.

Then, squeezing lemon zest into the wounds of a broken hemisphere, there was the plague outbreak of 541. It hit hard in a Roman port in Egypt, then traveled fast — per Science, "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." All told, the first tangible signs of recovery came in 640, based on ice cores recovered from Switzerland which show traces of lead pollution, signalling a return to heavy silver mining.

Then again, in 2015, Pizza Hut started offering crusts stuffed with hot dogs, so that wasn't great either.