Conspiracy Watch: Were the Dark Ages Faked?

“Phantom time,” Charlemagne, and a 300-year memory hole.

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The latest installment in our ongoing collection of wonderfully weird (and totally whack) conspiracy theories. Find more Conspiracy Watch entries here.

THE CONSPIRACY THEORY: No wonder the Dark Ages were so dark—they didn’t really exist. The years between 614 and 911 never happened, yet due to some suspicious mathematical manipulation, they have been included in the Western calendar. To cover up the time shift, three centuries of fictional events and nonexistent figures like Charlemagne have been squeezed into the historical record. Reset your watches: We’re actually living in the early 1700s.

THE THEORISTS: The idea of “phantom time” was first proposed in 1991 by a German historian named Heribert Illig and his colleagues. They claim that unexplained gaps in the archeological and documentary record confirm their hypothesis. So how did 297 empty years suddenly appear? The prime suspect is Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, who is commonly thought to have lived around 1000. Not so, say Illig and Co.: He actually lived around 700 but wished he lived at the time of the first millennium, so with the help of Pope Sylvester II, he added 300 years to the date. To help cover his tracks, he invented a convincing story about an eighth-century Frankish emperor named Charlemagne.

MEANWHILE, BACK ON EARTH: Needless to say, historians aren’t convinced that a large chunk of the Middle Ages were faked. But if it’s true, can I get a partial refund for that monster European History book I had to read in high school?

Kookiness Rating: Tin Foil Hat SmallTin Foil Hat SmallTin Foil Hat SmallTin Foil Hat SmallTin Foil Hat Small (1=maybe they’re on to something, 5=break out the tinfoil hat!)

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THE FACTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES.

At least we hope they will, because that’s our approach to raising the $350,000 in online donations we need right now—during our high-stakes December fundraising push.

It’s the most important month of the year for our fundraising, with upward of 15 percent of our annual online total coming in during the final week—and there’s a lot to say about why Mother Jones’ journalism, and thus hitting that big number, matters tremendously right now.

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So we’re going to try making this as un-annoying as possible. In “Let the Facts Speak for Themselves” we give it our best shot, answering three questions that most any fundraising should try to speak to: Why us, why now, why does it matter?

The upshot? Mother Jones does journalism you don’t find elsewhere: in-depth, time-intensive, ahead-of-the-curve reporting on underreported beats. We operate on razor-thin margins in an unfathomably hard news business, and can’t afford to come up short on these online goals. And given everything, reporting like ours is vital right now.

If you can afford to part with a few bucks, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones with a much-needed year-end donation. And please do it now, while you’re thinking about it—with fewer people paying attention to the news like you are, we need everyone with us to get there.

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