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The Storm that Darkened the Entire World:
Did a Tsunami Strike Java and Sumatra During Ancient Times? (cont.)
By Dr. Caesar Voûte and Mark Long

A Curious Historical Discontinuity

Malay Peninsula
Fig. 3: Malay Peninsula

In The Golden Khersonese, the historian Paul Wheatley presents a list of the known tribute missions that the Malay Peninsula city-states sent to China during the 6th century of the Common Era (CE). These tiny Malay kingdoms were economically important to China because they stood in the vicinity of the Isthmus of Kra - the shortest route for sending goods across the Malay Peninsula from one coastline to the other. Indeed, China's History of the Liang Dynasty (502-556) reports that over 10,000 men came from both directions to meet in the city-state of Tun-sun on each and every market day.

It is not too difficult to understand why at least one tribute mission from the Malay city-states is known to have arrived at the court of the Chinese emperor during each of the years between 529 and 536 CE. The Chinese emperor always made a point of sending valuable gifts to the rulers of the Malay city-states that rendered him annual tribute. The local Malay kings also obtained official recognition as well as other diplomatic advantages by sending their trade representatives to China.

Isthmus of Kra
Fig. 4: Isthmus of Kra

Then for no apparent reason, these highly lucrative annual events ground to a complete halt after the departure of the Malay trade mission of 536. The ensuing four-year gap in visits to the Chinese royal court is most curious given the importance of these exchanges to both sides. However, a possible resolution of this mystery is to be found in China's History of the Southern Kingdoms. In the year 535, two roars of thunder emanating from the southwest were heard as far away as Nan-king. Clouds of yellow dust soon followed that "rained down like snow" for an entire year, by which time it had accumulated to such an extent that the Chinese could "scoop it up by the handfuls."

Back in the days of monsoon-regulated sailing, ship-captains departing the Malay Peninsula for China scheduled their voyages so that they would coincide with the rainy season that began in late May or early June ? when the prevailing winds blew out of the southwest. It is therefore entirely possible that the Malay trade mission that arrived at the Chinese emperor's court in 536 had departed prior to the occurrence of the twin explosions that were heard in China during the previous year.

The Chinese accounts cited above compel us to recall the Mount Tambora eruption that devastated Sumbawa Island in 1815. This modern volcanic event was responsible for releasing about 20 cubic miles of ejecta into the earth's atmosphere, cooling temperatures globally over the course of a "year without a summer" violently punctuated by crop failures, famines and plagues. A documentary film which recently aired on National Geographic TV suggests that the effects of the Tambora eruption in Europe had exerted far more dramatic effects on the continent's societies than the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century. Scientists calculate that the Tambora eruption was responsible for the loss of 80,000 lives globally.

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