Humanity: the missing years

Ransom Riggs

There are two ways to become famous as an academic. One is to do great work, revolutionize your field and gain the respect and admiration of your colleagues. The other, exemplified by Dr. Hans-Ulrich Niemitz, is to introduce a theory so rife with implausibilities as to be ridiculous, but so outlandish that people can't stop talking about it. The theory in question is Niemitz's Phantom Time Hypothesis, which holds that the Early Middle Ages (614-911) are a complete fabrication, never happened, and it's now actually the year 1709.

According to Damn Interesting, this would mean that "all artifacts ascribed to those three centuries belong to other periods" and those phantom 297 years "were added to the calendar long ago either by accident ... or by deliberate falsification." This isn't quite as crazy as it sounds -- it seems that historians are plagued with falsified documents from this period, which seem to have been forged (in large part by the Roman Catholic Church) hundreds of years before the events they describe took place -- which sounds like they either had their dates wrong, or had a crystal ball hidden under their robes. (Hmm.)

A German systems analyst named Heribert Illig has of late become the theory's most vocal champion. Though his claims that Charlemagne was a fictional construct don't seem to be helping his cause, he did discover some interesting "gaps" in history which seem to, if not support his theory, at least make you wonder:

  • In 1582, the Gregorian calendar we still use today was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII to replace the outdated Julian calendar which had been implemented in 45 BC. The Gregorian calendar was designed to correct for a ten-day discrepancy caused by the fact that the Julian year was 10.8 minutes too long. But by Heribert Illig's math, the 1,627 years which had passed since the Julian calendar started should have accrued a thirteen-day discrepancy"¦ a ten-day error would have only taken 1,257 years.
  • They also found a gap of building in Constantinople (558 AD - 908 AD), and
  • a gap in the doctrine of faith, especially in the evolution of theory and meaning of purgatory (600 AD until ca. 1100)

Most scholars agree that while a few years may have slipped into the calendar here or there (hence, many dates in history are denoted "circa"), three hundred extra years is downright silly. But still, it's tough to resist the allure of such a wacked-out theory. So even if the guys behind the Phantom Time Hypothesis have got it all wrong, wouldn't it be cool?