Great Myths of the Dark Ages

Starting on a plateau, and then sliding downhill...

The Hallstatt Plateau

This was something I stumbled on by chance. At first glance, you might wonder : "What's that, something to do with Hallstatt in Austria?" If you did, don't worry, I thought the same; but we'd both be wrong. It's a chuffing great big, and euphemistically named, problem in Radiocarbon Dating.

The Hallstatt Plateau is a term used in archaeology that refers to a consistently flat area on graphs that plot radiocarbon dating against calendar dates. Radiocarbon dates of around 2450 BP (Before Present) always calibrate to ca. 800-400 BC, no matter the measurement precision.
Ref : Hallstatt Plateau

Eh? Run that by me again?

- Apparent 'gap' in archaeological record between 7th and 3rd centuries BC
- Lack of deposition of fine metalwork between Late Bronze Age and La Tène.
- Difficult to account for disappearance of fine metalwork
- It is impossible to sensibly resolve the radiocarbon dates of any samples whose true ages lie between 400 and 800 BC.
Ref : Dark Age in Ireland

But why? It seems like something went BANG c.800BC and chucked loads of Carbon 14 into the atmosphere, thereby screwing the whole methodology of carbon dating. It seems to coincide with the start of what "they" call the Bronze Age Collapse, or the Greek Dark Age, and megalithic culture and trade apparently started working part-time for c.400 years.

I wouldn't mind so much except I'd always thought Radiocarbon Dating was somehow more reliable than the opinion of Orthodox Archeologists.There are endless academic papers (and careers) based on complex explanations of why the Greek Dark Age consisted of the Greeks stopping everything for c.400 years, and then starting again, exactly where they left off, as though nothing had ever happened.

The truth is much simpler.

The Greek Dark Age had to be invented (or used to explain away a gap) because Greek chronologies had to be forced to mesh with what was regarded as the more authoritative Egyptian chronologies. Even though the Egyptian chronology was fundamentally flawed. But nobody realised that until much later. But by then all the textbooks had been written.

The seamless patchwork

After mulling it over for a while I realised that what we are taught as "continuous history" is in fact a patchwork quilt of bits and pieces of historical fragments from all over. Sometimes the pieces join together nicely, and it all looks nice & tidy (if you don't look too closely). Sometimes there are ragged edges that are tucked under each other in the hope that nobody notices the discrepencies or inconsistencies. Or in the hope that no pesky pedants start picking at the frayed edges.

Mind The Gap

If you can find, and bear to read, some of the rare learned journals where archeologists (one specialty) actually talk to radiocarbon dating specialists (a different specialty in a different university department), you'd find a distinct undercurrent that ran for years. Of the radiocarbon dating specialists politely telling the archeos that their chronology is rubbish. Of course, when the Hallstatt Plateau issue surfaced, the tables were turned, and now the archeology specialists got their chance to tell the radiocarbon specialists that they were the rubbish ones now. Yah boo!

It could, however, be that the archaeos are still busy with finger pointing to divert attention from the inadequacies in their own interpretations. Maybe we need to look for people who say the patchwork quilt needs rearranging? For example, the "gaps in time" issue is well covered by the Q-mag people, in their own way, although they seem to favour 500 years as the size of the gap.

...five hundred spurious years got inserted because of a misreading of Manetho's king-lists of the Egyptian pharoahs in the late nineteenth century which, since everybody else uses Egyptian chronology, means everybody else is out and has to insert five hundred years somewhere to catch up.
Ref : 500 spurious years

But is "gap" the correct word? If the fundamental measuring device of the Archeo's (the Egyptian king-lists) is broken, and radio-carbon dating is broken, how are we to have faith in any dates before 400BC? And that's just the BC gap. There's at least one other one AD.

Some say that all the Dark Ages coincide with Climatic Minimums. That what they all have in common is periods when crops don't grow so well, and empires shrink. Or trading patterns change. Or part of the Dark Age was called Dark because it was .... dark? Dark, and cold and miserable, according to this:

"Unusual climate during Roman times plunged Eurasia into hunger and disease"
The large volcanic eruptions of AD 536 and 540 led to climate cooling and contributed to hardships of Late Antiquity societies throughout Eurasia, and triggered a major environmental event in the historical Roman Empire. Our set of stable carbon isotope records from subfossil tree rings demonstrates a strong negative excursion in AD 536 and 541–544. Modern data from these sites show that carbon isotope variations are driven by solar radiation. A model based on sixth century isotopes reconstruct an irradiance anomaly for AD 536 and 541–544 of nearly three standard deviations below the mean value based on modern data. This anomaly can be explained by a volcanic dust veil reducing solar radiation and thus primary production threatening food security over a multitude of years.
Refs : Nature, eruptions of AD 536 and 540, WUWT cold not warmth

It looks like they mean Late Eastern Roman Empire times. Not Romans-in-Britain times. But it might be Arthurian Wasteland times?

Recently on BBC4, we had Waldemar Januszczak presenting part one of "The Dark Ages: An Age Of Light". At the start of the programme he shows us one of the earliest Christian churches in Britain. It's in Hinton St Mary, Dorset, and is famous for its Roman mosaic. A 4th century Christian Church, but in a Byzantine church style. As a passing remark, he says it was right next door to a Jewish Synagogue. Eh? In 400AD? More long-distance communication and trading connections? The progamme info says ...

"The Dark Ages have been misunderstood. History has identified the period following the fall of the Roman Empire with a descent into barbarism - a terrible time when civilisation stopped. Waldemar Januszczak disagrees. In this four-part series he argues that the Dark Ages were a time of great artistic achievement, with new ideas and religions provoking new artistic adventures. He embarks on a fascinating trip across Europe, Africa and Asia, visits the world's most famous collections and discovers hidden artistic gems, all to prove that the Dark Ages were actually an 'Age of Light'. In the first episode he looks at how Christianity emerged into the Roman Empire as an artistic force in the third and fourth centuries. But with no description of Jesus in the Bible, how were Christians to represent their God? Waldemar explores how Christian artists drew on images of ancient gods for inspiration and developed new forms of architecture to contain their art."
Ref: BBC History of the World (page)
On Iplayer : BBC History of the World (programme).

Perhaps we should be asking why our children are still being taught about "Dark Ages" in history classes? Because the curriculum-makers have still not woken up to the fact the Dark Ages were invented to plug a non-existent gap in the chronology. Or should we just warn our children to Mind The Gap?

Footnote : Mind The Gap is famously used on the London Tube by station announcers. Also infamously given to some US tourists as an explanation:

Approaching trains sometimes disturb the large Gappe bats that roost in the tunnels. The Gappes were smuggled into London in the early 19th century by French saboteurs and have proved impossible to exterminate. The announcement "Mind the Gappe!" is a signal that you should grab your hair and look towards the ceiling. Very few people have ever been killed by Gappes, though, and they are considered only a minor drawback to an otherwise excellent means of transportation.
Ref : Mind The Gap

Next : The Wasteland and the British Exodus

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