COP – Can archaeology inform the climate change debate?

COP is an interesting event, but, is global warming the only imminent environmental threat to humanity?

Archaeologists are creatures of habit, and as such they habitually record on archaeological drawings the orientation of buildings in relation to magnetic north at the time of excavation. During research towards The Early Byzantine Christian Church (Mulholland, 2014, p. 127-155) the orientation of churches in the Levant in relation to magnetic north, as recorded on archaeological drawings, was noted together with the Byzantine date, if any, provided by inscriptions in mosaic pavements. This data provides some evidence that new-build churches constructed within a few years of each other share the same orientation, and that through time the alignment of new-build churches changed in concert. Why would new-build churches act in concert this way? Nor is this observation restricted to the sixth century as recent research has questioned the disparate alignment of Christian churches in the modern era (Hinton, 2007).

A number of Byzantine texts indicate that it fell to the local bishop to lay out the plan for new church buildings, and the alignment would be determined by the ‘finger of God’. It is a working assumption that this refers to a magnetic compass or lodestone, and, indeed, there is a contemporary sixth century reference from Procopius of Caesarea to the captains of sailing vessels relying on a magnetic compass to navigate at sea. The working hypothesis then is that the orientation of new-build churches during the Early Byzantine period records the direction of magnetic north at the time of construction. And so each of these church buildings arguably serves as a palaeomagnetic record of the wandering magnetic north pole at the time they were constructed, and they cumulatively provide an accurate record for the location of the magnetic north pole over several centuries.

If this working hypothesis is correct then this record can augment and complement evidence in Duff (1994, chapter 27) that the magnetic north pole has staggered around during the last last five hundred years of recorded history, and on occasions the Earth’s magnetic poles have completely reversed, as happened 20,000 years ago (figure 27.7).

In the chapter ‘Chandler wobbles, tilts, and wanders’ (Mulholland, 2016) this working hypothesis is expanded upon, and it is argued that the Earth’s magnetic poles are merely reacting to periodic reversals of the Sun’s magnetic poles, which recent research indicates have been flip-flopping every ten years or so (Phillips, 2013). What effect does this flip-flopping of the Sun’s magnetic poles have on the Earth, and the other planets orbiting it?

In simple terms, if the working hypothesis is correct, then the archaeological record referred to above suggests that the Earth’s magnetic north pole was located in the vicinity of Japan during the sixth century, and well on its way to a full reversal, before moving back towards the geographical North Pole again. The question then is what effect, if any, would result from the Earth’s magnetic north pole shifting to the vicinity of Japan during the sixth century?

Could the Earth’s magnetic north pole migrate without causing any discernible physical impact, or, would the Earth’s core and magnetic north pole migrate in sync with each other such that they generate friction between the core and mantle leading to more dramatic physical effects at the Earth’s surface? And, if so, what physical effects would result?

Of course this working hypothesis has to be tested before any conclusions can be reached, but there is a coincidental global cooling event during A.D. 536 that warrants further research – among others. Furthermore, both Holland (2016) and Newfield (2016) have argued that this A.D. 536 event lasted for more than a century and, perhaps by coincidence, overlaps with the Justinianic plague (A.D. 541-549) that decimated the human population during the sixth century. What, if any, relationship there is between this global cooling event and the Justinianic plague requires further research.

Whilst the working hypothesis described in this brief article concerns the sixth century, it is important to note that it also applies universally to other time periods, and also, potentially, points to future events as well. Moreover it provides an alternative explanation for these events that challenge the cometary ‘dust veil’ hypothesis of Mike Baillie (2000), Góralski’s (2019) climate mechanism, and for the alternative volcanic eruption and asteroid impactor theories being championed by others.

The focus of COP26 in Glasgow is firmly focused on preventing global warming during the twenty-first century, but there may be other potential threats to humanity that are currently being ignored and which require further research.


Baillie, M. Exodus to Arthur: catastrophic encounters with comets. (B.T. Batsford Ltd, 2000).

Duff, D. Holmes’ principles of physical geography. (Chapman and Hall, 1994).

Góralski, B. The new look at the Earth’s climate mechanism and the Cosmo-geophysical system of the Earth, (Library of the Historical Institute of the University of Warsaw, 2019).

Hinton, I. Churches face East, don’t they?, British Archaeology, May-June, 28-29 and 63 (2007).

Holland, T. (2016) ‘Islam’s empire born in the century without summer’, Sunday Times, 14 December, 7 (2016).

Mulholland, B. The Early Byzantine Christian Church. (Peter Lang, 2014).

Mulholland, B. ‘The man from MENSA’ – 1 of 600: Mensa research. (Independent Publishing, 2016).

Newfield, T. The Global Cooling Event of the Sixth Century. Mystery No Longer? (2016).

Phillips, T. The Sun’s magnetic field is about to flip. (2013).

Academia Letters, December 2021 Corresponding Author: Bernard Mulholland.Citation: Mulholland, B. (2021). Can archaeology inform the climate change debate? Academia Letters, Article4385.


Author: Dr. Bernard Mulholland

Dr. Bernard Mulholland is a Byzantinist, archaeologist, historian and Patristics scholar with a Ph.D. in history (QUB, 2012). Bernard's publications include: Fiction: Bernard Mulholland, Nazareth Quest (2022). Non-fiction: Bernard Mulholland, The man from MENSA - 1 of 600: Mensa research (2016). ---, The man from MENSA - 1 of the 600: Politics 1990-1995 (2016). ---, Ratio analysis of financial KPI in the Higher Education sector: a case study (2018). ---, Early Byzantine Ireland: a survey of the archaeological evidence (2021). ---, Navan Fort, Ireland: archaeological and palaeoecological analysis (2021). ---, The Early Byzantine Christian Church (Oxford, 2014). ---, 'Identification of Early Byzantine Constantinopolitan, Syrian, and Roman church plans in the Levant and some possible consequences', Patristic Studies in the twenty-first century: proceedings of an international conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the International Association of Patristic Studies, ed. Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony, Theodore de Bruyn and Carol Harrison (Turnhout, 2015), 597-633. Mulholland, B. (2021). 'Can archaeology inform the climate change debate?' Academia Letters, Article4385.

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