David Keys (author)

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David Keys is archaeology correspondent for the London daily paper, The Independent, frequent television commentator on archaeological matters and author of the 1999 book Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World. He has visited over a thousand archaeological and historical sites in sixty countries. He was featured as one of the main interview subjects in the 2000 pilot to the PBS series, Secrets of the Dead giving insight into the subject of the ancient climatic catastrophe which is the subject of his book.

Keys has been Archaeology Correspondent for The Independent since the paper launched in 1986. He has also written every month on history and archaeology for BBC History Magazine since 2005 – and has contributed to many other publications in the UK and elsewhere including Geographical Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, Die Welt and La Stampa. Keys is also a major generator of historical and archaeological TV documentaries, having initiated, researched and acted as consultant for 30 documentaries since 1996. Major TV documentaries he initiated and acted as consultant on include The Immortal Emperor (1996), Flight Paths to the Gods (1997), Catastrophe: The Day the Sun went out (1999), The Mummies of Cladh Hallan (2004), The Killer Wave of 1607 (2005), Gladiators: Back from the Dead (2010), Nelson’s Navy (2011) and Spying on Hitler’s Army (2013). Since 2006 Keys has also been carrying out detailed research into the long-term historical origins of recent and current political and military crises and conflicts. So far 75 of them have been published and further articles are now being syndicated through the Chicago-based international syndication agency Tribune Media Services for whom Keys writes as a columnist. Keys has worked in historical and archaeological journalism since the mid-1980s. Before that, he worked in international trade and aviation journalism for ten years (1976-1986) as aviation editor of the London-based trade newspaper, International Freighting Weekly and also often contributed to Middle East Economic Digest, Africa Confidential and British Airways’ in flight magazine, High Life.


Keys' book Catastrophe was published in 1999 by Random House. The book's thesis is that a global climatic catastrophe in AD 535 to 536 –– a massive volcanic eruption sundering Java from Sumatra –– was the decisive factor that transformed the Ancient World into the Medieval Era (and beyond). Ancient chroniclers recorded a disaster in that year that blotted out the Sun for months (possibly years) causing famine, droughts, floods, storms and an epidemic of bubonic plague. Keys uses tree-ring samples, analysis of lake deposits and ice cores, as well as contemporaneous documents to bolster his speculative thesis. In his scenario, the ensuing disasters precipitated the disintegration of the Byzantine Empire, beset by Avar, Slav, Mongol, and Persian invaders propelled from their disrupted homelands. The 6th-century collapse of Arabian civilization under pressure from floods and crop failure created a religiously apocalyptic atmosphere which set the stage for the emergence of Islam. In Mexico, the cataclysm supposedly triggered the collapse of Teotihuacán, while in China the ensuing half-century of political and social chaos led to a reunified nation. The book concludes with a roundup of trouble spots that could conceivably wreak planetary havoc.

Publishers Weekly criticized the book, writing that Keys "relentlessly overwork[s historical events'] explanatory power in a manner reminiscent of Velikovsky's theory that a comet collided with the earth in 1500 B.C."[1] Writing in The New York Times Book Review, Malcolm W. Browne instead insisted that "this book must be taken seriously, if only as a reminder that survival in a world threatened by real dangers hangs by a very slender thread."[2]

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