"The Dark Ages" is a term referring to the period of disruption that took place in Western Europe following the decline of the Roman Empire. Originally, the term characterised the bulk of the Middle Ages as a period of intellectual darkness. This definition is still found in popular usage, but increased recognition of the significance of the Middle Ages since the 19th century has led to the label being restricted in application. Scholars who study the era tend to avoid the term altogether, finding it misleading and inaccurate for any part of the Middle Ages.
The rise of archaeology and other specialties in the 20th century has shed much light on the period and offered a more thorough understanding of its positive developments. On the rare occasions when the term "Dark Ages" is used by historians today, it is intended to be neutral, namely, to express the idea that the events of the period often seem "dark" and unknown to us only because of the scarcity of sources, including historical records.