Scientists have discovered terrifying new evidence which helps to tell the story of how humanity dodged extinction following a gigantic supervolcano explosion.
Microscopic shards of volcanic glass have been found thousands of miles from the site of a huge eruption on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra which took place 74,000 years ago.
This huge explosion blew up Mount Toba and is thought to have plunged the world into a ‘volcanic winter’ that lasted decades and caused mass starvation by blocking the light which plants need to grow.
It’s feared the same thing could happen today because it’s feared the remnants of Mount Toba could go kaboom at any time.
Whilst experts fear these disasters could send humanity back to the Stone Age, it actually was the Stone Age when Toba went up with a bang.
Archaeologists have been working on a rock shelter at a site at Pinnacle Point near the South African town of Mossel Bay to discover how ancient humans bounced back after this natural catastrophe.
They found shards of glass in a place where people lived, cooked and slept as well as an open-air site 6 miles (10 km) away where humans fashioned tools of stone, bone and wood.
The rock shelter was inhabited from 90,000 to 50,000 years ago. The researchers found no signs of abandonment at the time of the eruption, but rather evidence of business as usual.
‘It is very possible that populations elsewhere suffered badly,’ said paleoanthropologist Curtis Marean of Arizona State University’s Institute of Human Origins and Nelson Mandela University’s Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience in South Africa.
The researchers said the seaside location may have provided a refuge, with marine food sources like shellfish less sensitive than inland plants and animals to an eruption’s environmental effects.
Mount Toba belched immense amounts of volcanic particles into the atmosphere to spread worldwide, dimming sunlight and potentially killing many plants. It was the most powerful eruption in the past 2 million years and the strongest since our species first appeared in Africa roughly 300,000 years ago.
Scientists are divided over the eruption’s impact. Some think it may have caused a human population collapse that became a near-extinction event. Others believe its effects were less severe.
‘On a regular basis through time, humans faced dire threats from natural disasters. As hunter-gatherers endowed with advanced cognition and a proclivity to cooperate, we were able to make it through this disaster, and we were very resilient,’ said Marean, who led the study published in the journal Nature.
‘But this may not be the case now with our reliance on our highly complicated technological system. In my opinion, a volcano like this could annihilate civilization as we know it. Are we ready?’