Ancient tools found in India suggest the Toba supervolcano eruption didn't leave humanity on the brink of extinction
- Ancient tools discovered in northern India provide new evidence that humans were able to survive one of the largest volcanic events in human history — the
Toba catastrophe theorystates that the eruption covered South Asia in ash and blackened out the skies triggering an ice age, leaving only a dwindling human population in its wake.
- However, mounting archaeological evidence suggests that humans may have persevered.
Ancient tools discovered in Dhaba northern India punch another hole Toba catastrophe theory and add to the piling evidence that the event wasn’t as extreme as scientists previously assumed.
The Toba catastrophe theory states that the massive eruption — 100 times greater than the biggest explosion in recent history, the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora — only left a few thousand survivors in its wake. The fall-out triggered a decade of volcanic winter and an ice-age that lasted a millennium.
However, the study of stone tools published in Nature Communications suggests that humans were present in the Middle Son Valley 80,000 years before and after the volcano erupted.
"Although Toba ash was first identified in the Son Valley back in the 1980s until now we did not have associated archaeological evidence, so the Dhaba site fills in a major chronological gap," said principal investigator J.N. Pal.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust — the Toba catastrophe theory
The Toba catastrophe theory is one of correlation. Around the same time as the eruption in present-day Indonesia, humanity was in a bit of rut with respect to evolution.
The sky was blacked out, most of South Asia and the Indian Ocean was covered in 15 centimetres-thick layer of ash, and humanity was dying out.
Since both events seem to coincide, scientists theorised that the supervolcano was a plausible reason for the sudden drop in diversity. However, with new data coming into the picture, the pieces are no longer adding up.
The first evidence to refute the theory came to light in 2007. Evidence of stone tools in southern India suggested that humans existed during the time period. However, according to the Toba catastrophe theory the only surviving humans were in Africa — who later populated Asia 60,000 years ago.
A fossil found in South Africa cast further doubt. Discovered in 2018, the archaeological evidence suggested that the global human not only survived the eruption but thrived.
Scientists still agree that there was a drop in diversity around 70,000 years ago. However, some no longer believe it was due to the supervolcano triggering climate change.
A few theorise that it’s simply the founder effect — the loss of genetic variation when small groups break off from a large population, but they’re not genetically representative. As a result, the population is vulnerable to genetic drift and inbreeding.
More data is needed to fill the gaps of Earth’s timeline, but these new ancient tools suggest that humans were able to survive one of the largest volcanic events in human history.
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