Did Humans Almost Die Out 70,000 Years Ago?


“The Toba supervolcanic eruption occurred some time between 69,000 and 77,000 years ago at the site of present-day Lake Toba (Sumatra, Indonesia). It is one of the Earth’s largest known eruptions. The Toba catastrophe hypothesis holds that this event caused a global volcanic winter of 6–10 years and possibly a 1,000-year-long cooling episode. Its erupted mass was 100 times greater than that of the largest volcanic eruption in recent history, the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, which caused the 1816 “Year Without a Summer” in the northern hemisphere.

The Toba eruption has been linked to a genetic bottleneck in human evolution about 50,000 years ago, which may have resulted from a severe reduction in the size of the total human population due to the effects of the eruption on the global climate.

According to the genetic bottleneck theory, between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago, human populations sharply decreased to 3,000–10,000 surviving individuals. It is supported by genetic evidence suggesting that today’s humans are descended from a very small population of between 1,000 and 10,000 breeding pairs that existed about 70,000 years ago.

Proponents of the genetic bottleneck theory suggest that the Toba eruption resulted in a global ecological disaster, including destruction of vegetation along with severe drought in the tropical rainforest belt and in monsoonal regions. For example, a 10-year volcanic winter triggered by the eruption could have largely destroyed the food sources of humans and caused a severe reduction in population sizes.

Other research has cast doubt on the genetic bottleneck theory. For example, ancient stone tools in southern India were found above and below a thick layer of ash from the Toba eruption and were very similar across these layers, suggesting that the dust clouds from the eruption did not wipe out this local population.

Some evidence points to genetic bottlenecks in other animals in the wake of the Toba eruption: the populations of the Eastern African chimpanzee, Bornean orangutan, central Indian macaque, the cheetah, the tiger, and the separation of the nuclear gene pools of eastern and western lowland gorillas, all recovered from very low numbers around 70,000–55,000 years ago.”

Text source and more details (including research that challenges this theory): Toba catastrophe theory (Wikipedia)

About Christopher Chase

Co-creator and Admin of the Facebook pages "Tao & Zen" "Art of Learning" & "Creative Systems Thinking." Majored in Studio Art at SUNY, Oneonta. Graduated in 1993 from the Child & Adolescent Development program at Stanford University's School of Education. Since 1994, have been teaching at Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka, Japan.
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