Back to the Future: a Coping Mechanism for the Apocalypse

Worried about the world collapsing in on itself this Saturday? How about believing in something that’ll give you a 300-year grace period on Armageddon instead?

Blame it on the weatherman.

Bad news: you were 297 years premature when you partied like it was 1999. Silver lining: you’ll survive the end of days. That’s right, if the “Phantom Time Hypothesis” is correct, the above scenario won’t take place for another three centuries. Phew.

According to the theory, the years between 614 and 911AD never existed. For this to be true, “the history normally attributed to that time is either a misinterpretation or a deliberate falsification of the evidence.” Don’t believe it? Like any good conspiracy theory, this one comes with cold hard (you can take those adjectives with a pinch of salt, methinks) facts…

Due to a lack of archeological evidence and historical accounts of this time period, a man called Herman Illig developed the idea in 1990 that most of what we know of the Early Middle Ages had been deliberately falsified. The grounds for his hypothesis also lie in the shift from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, as well as the unbelievable history of Emperor Charlemagne.

The bases of the hypothesis include:

  • The apparent stagnation in the development of architecture, ceramics and thought as well as the lack of substantial documentary evidence–this is why the first part of this period is called the ‘Dark Ages’–suggests this period simply didn’t exist.
  • There is very little archaeological evidence which can be reliably dated to this period; our account is based on a quite limited number of written sources (which could be faked or just wrong).
  • The Pope introduced the new Gregorian calendar in 1582 to replace the Julian one, when it was 10 days out of sync. If the error had been building up since the introduction of the Julian calendar in 45 ad, it ought to have been 13 days out–so the intervening period must have been overstated by 300 years. Mainstream historians have a simple explanation, though: the purpose of the change was to bring the calendar into line with the Council of Nicaea in 325 ad, not with 45 ad–which accounts for the discrepancy.
  • Architect, astronomer, educator, philologist,  folklorist, lawmaker, statesman–the range of achievements credited to Charlemagne is so great that it implies he is a mythical figure.

Dubious it is, though you may be more inclined to believe it now that the world is evidently coming to an end. I’d post the arguments against the theory, but I’d rather remain cheery on this, my final Monday. And to make you even cheerier, start the video below at the 30 minute mark to watch Qi quizmaster Stephen Fry et al make light of an implausible idea.

So, Happy New Year 1715, and hurray for false history lessons!

For further reading, take a look at these and decide on the verity of the Phantom Time Hypothesis for yourself:

The Myth of Charlemagne

Qi–Time (Phantom Time Hypothesis)