Super volcanoes will kill you, but not in the way you might expect

By John Miller

Saturday the 21st of April 2018


This evening while working my way through a Sumerian poem about a cheeky lad named Shukalletudda and the pagan goddess Inana that he had his wicked way with while she was trying to sleep, I became worried about volcanoes.

Not that the ancient scribe had specifically mentioned a volcano. Why would he? He had never even seen the dreadful thing that caused much of the carnage he was writing about. A vengeful deity was wreaking havoc upon the world to punish the lecherous Shukalletudda, nothing more.

Volcanoes go off all the time, like the trifling city devouring Vesuvius. A mere 5-star explosion.  A 7-star event like the one that impacted the Sumerians changes weather patterns all around the globe.

Santorini in 1600 BC was also rated 7 stars on the Volcanic Explosivity Index – the VEI. Due to its location in the Aegean Sea few slack jawed yokels got to wonder about the monstrous smiths who worked the forges beneath the fiery mountain for Vulcan. There were no living witnesses to the cool way in which the small Minoan kingdom that was built upon Santorini was obliterated.

The ensuing tsunamis that crashed into the several adjacent islands and terrified the natives of Aegean shores were attributed to Poseidon the earth shaker and not to Hephaestus. In Egypt some giant snake demon hogged all the glory after the Sun god was blotted out for a bit.

Everything that happened in 1600 was child’s play compared to what happened in the ensuing decades. It began with the crop failures. The ash was deadly to both flora and fauna, but the real kicker was the weather going awry after a blanket of Sulphur particles was thrown up into the sky. Once fertile Crete began to starve.

The Minoans never recovered from 1600 BC. After 4500 years of doing nice things like leaping over bulls and painting frescoes, they then suddenly started burning down their cities and taking  captives to murder in their labyrinths and so forth. Starvation and mass hysteria will do that to you though.

A category 7 volcano like Santorini is such a rare event that we can count all the ones that have occurred since 1600 BC on one hand. The last one was in the Dutch East Indies in April 1815, and it ruined the last summer of the Napoleonic Wars and caused an epic hurricane to ravage New England. And that was just the start of the trouble.

The severe cooling effect of all the sulphur particles lodged in the atmosphere by an Indonesian volcano caused widespread crop failure in Europe and the Americas in 1816, with food riots occurring in Paris and London. Agricultural production recovered only very slowly, and meanwhile there was an accompanying cholera epidemic, most virulent in Thailand and the Far East, but reaching every corner of the globe.

The cumulative effects of ongoing famine and disease enraged the populace of London, and by August of 1819 the Duke of Wellington was forced to calm them with a few volleys and a cavalry charge. Europe went into meltdown, but in the Americas the same era gave rise to Mormonism, which I don’t really have a problem with because they seem so awfully nice.

Prior to 1815, Christians had known three Cat-7 volcanoes. There was the one which started the Little Ice Age in 1250, which gave us a century of bitterly cold winters and dismal summers, followed by the Black Death.

The next time you complain about the weather remember that the Little Ice Age didn’t completely end until the 1940s. Jesus can start Winter any time he likes with volcanic explosions. Would you prefer a mild summer or starvation and cholera laced with a general rebellion though?

The Cat 7 EXPLOSION before the one that caused the Little Ice Age occurred on the border of China and Korea in 950 AD. My knowledge of Chinese history is fairly basic, but the Persians stepped over the Arabs and revived many of their ancient customs and prestige at this time, and remade their oppressive Arab religion to suit themselves better.

The most obvious Cat 7 EXPLOSION that caused mass carnage in the Christian era was an eruption in New Zealand in 215 AD that led to the Crisis of the Third Century. It did not quite collapse the Roman Empire, but it severely weakened it.

The movement of hungry Goths was of particular concern. These ravening Norsemen wandered down into Europe to dislodge the Germans, who in turn had to fight their way across the Roman border for safety. These various tribes of hungry and angry white men did not settle down and become the nations of Europe for centuries.

Before these five Cat 7 EXPLOSIONS there was Cerro Blanco in Argentina, which erupted in 2300 BC. Shukalletudda got the blame for the drought that defined the Middle Bronze Age, which caused the starving Gutians to come down out of the mountains and attack the Akkadians.

The Akkadians had a fairly big reputation then, being the heirs of Sargon of Akkad and boasting of his conquests. Sargon was lucky to have conquered the soft bronze age agricultural cities of Mesopotamia. After 2300, life got harsh. Not only were there starving barbarians at the gates, but an angry and hungry populace within.

When the crops of northern Mesopotamia began to fail at first the disaster was mitigated by the Akkadian Empire being able to draw upon the granaries of the Sumerian cities of the Euphrates, who used a type of dyke and canal agriculture not reliant on rainfall.

But as the crops on the northern plateau failed year after year, and as the Gutian barbarians piled up victories against the Akkadians, the Empire of Sargon slowly fell apart.

The poem of Shu-Kalle-Tudda, which roughly translated means someone who had an excellent birth, or more specifically that his Midwife had Precious Hands, is about a raven who cultivates date palms and lush gardens. It is also about the son of a god who rapes the goddess Inana and then goes on the run.

His land is turned from a paradise to a lonely place of dust, and he becomes a lonely wandering ghost among the shepherds. The scribe essentially blames him for three centuries of hardship in Assyrian Subir and Iranian Elam.

In the myth of Shukalletudda the rapist is the son of a minor god named Igisigsig, which can mean either jaundice or the sickly shade of yellow associated with the disease. It is also the name of a crop ruining disease. Yet he was famous in the Assyrian north as a god of orchards and cultivation.

The Raven was a bird of the pagan god Enlil, father of the pantheon. In one Sumerian poem a priest encounters him in Raven form and recognises him, and Enlil then decides to let this guy and his descendants run his temple. His city Nippur also had an ancient association with the date palms.

Shukalletudda though was a northern vagabond, associated with the drought that ruined Shubat-Enlil, a very important cult city for Enlil of 20,000 that Argentinian Volcanism transformed into a ghost town for 300 years. Unable to feed or defend itself, its entire region was turned into a dustbowl.

Being a city god was a rough business. If you lost your city you became a ghost. Hence poor Shukalletudda with dust in his eyes, accused of raping the goddess who had once been his consort in his city. He was forgotten and became a wandering spirit. Shukalletudda the Wailer, whose moans were heard on the South Wind.

And this is why you should never trust volcanoes, which kill in unexpected ways, and turn civilised men into vagabond ghosts.

The next super volcano will probably erupt at Naples.

Full disclosure: John Miller’s IRL name is Frank Faulkner. I’m an Aussie who’s keen on Conservative politics, Trump, and the Anime Right.

I’m pretty sure we won’t die by Super Volcano today though.

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