Toba catastrophe theory

Toba catastrophe theory

According to the Toba catastrophe theory, 70,000 to 75,000 years ago a supervolcanic event at Lake Toba, on Sumatra, reduced the world's human population to 10,000 or even a mere 1,000 breeding pairs, creating a bottleneck in human evolution. The theory was proposed in 1998 by Stanley H. Ambrose of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.cite journal
author=Stanley H. Ambrose
title=Late Pleistocene human population bottlenecks, volcanic winter, and differentiation of modern humans
journal=Journal of Human Evolution | year=1998 | volume=34 | issue=6 | pages= 623–651
] [cite web
author=Ambrose, Stanley H. | year=2005
title=Volcanic Winter, and Differentiation of Modern Humans | work=Bradshaw Foundation
url= | accessdate=2006-04-08


Within the last three to five million years, after human and other ape lineages diverged from the hominid stem-line, the human line produced a variety of species, including "H. ergaster", "H. erectus", "H. neanderthalensis" and possibly "H. floresiensis".

According to the Toba catastrophe theory, the consequences of a massive volcanic eruption severely reduced the human population. This may have occurred around 70,000–75,000 years ago when the Toba caldera in Indonesia underwent an eruption of category 8 (or "mega-colossal") on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. This released energy equivalent to about convert|1|GtonTNT|lk=on, fifty times greater than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. HelensFact|date=July 2008, and twenty times greater than the largest man-made explosion, the October 30, 1961 detonation of the Soviet Union's Tsar Bomba thermonuclear device. According to Ambrose, the Toba explosion reduced the average global temperature by 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) for several years and may have triggered an ice age.

Ambrose proposes that this massive environmental change created population bottlenecks in the species that existed at the time; this in turn accelerated differentiation of the isolated human populations, eventually leading to the extinction of all the other human species except for the two branches that became Neanderthals ("H. neanderthalensis") and modern humans ("H. sapiens").


Some geological evidence and computed models support the plausibility of the Toba catastrophe theory. The Greenland ice core data displays an abrupt change around this time, [cite journal | last = Zielinski | first = G.A. | coauthors = P.A. Mayewski, L.D. Meeker, S. Whitlow and M. Twickler | date = | year = 1996 | month = March | title = A 110,000-year record of explosive volcanism from the GISP2 (Greenland) ice core | journal = Quaternary Research | volume = 45 | issue = 2 | pages = 109–118 | publisher = University of Washington | issn = 0033-5894 | doi = 10.1006/qres.1996.0013] but in the corresponding Antarctic data the change is not easily discernible. Ashes from this eruption of Lake Toba, located near the equator, should have spread all over the world.

Genetic evidence suggests that all humans alive today, despite their apparent variety, are descended from a very small population, perhaps between 1,000 and 10,000 breeding pairs about 70,000 years ago. [cite web|url=|title=When humans faced extinction|publisher=BBC|date=2003-06-09|accessdate=2007-01-05]

Using the average rates of genetic mutation, some geneticists have estimated that this population lived at a time coinciding with the Toba event. These estimates do not contradict the consensus estimates that Y-chromosomal Adam lived some 60,000 years ago, and that Mitochondrial Eve is estimated to have lived 140,000 years ago, because Toba is not conjectured to be an extreme bottleneck event, where the population is reduced to a small number of breeding pairs.

Gene analysis of some genes shows divergence anywhere from 60,000 to 2 million years ago, but this does not contradict the Toba theory, once again because Toba is not conjectured to be an extreme bottleneck event. The complete picture of gene lineages (including present-day levels of human genetic variation) allows the theory of a Toba-induced human population bottleneck.cite book
first = Richard
last = Dawkins
authorlink = Richard Dawkins
title = The Ancestor's Tale, A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life
chapter = The Grasshopper's Tale
pages = 416
publisher = Houghton Mifflin Company
location = Boston
year = 2004
id = ISBN 0-618-00583-8

Recent work by archaeologist Michael Petraglia suggests that in fact modern humans survived relatively unscathed in at least one settlement in India. [cite news | first= | last= | coauthors= | title=Mount Toba Eruption - Ancient Humans Unscathed, Study Claims | date= | publisher= | url = | work = | pages = | accessdate = 2008-04-20 | language = ] [ cite journal|title=Super-eruption: no problem?|journal=Nature|date= July 2007|first=Katherine|last=Sanderson|coauthors=|volume=|issue=|pages=|doi= 0.1038/news070702-15|url=|format=Dead link|date=June 2008 – [ Scholar search] |accessdate=2008-04-20|doi_brokendate=2008-06-28 ]

Analysis of lice genes

Alan Rogers, a co-author of this study and professor of anthropology at the University of Utah, says: “The record of our past is written in our parasites.” Rogers and others have proposed the bottleneck may have occurred because of a mass die-off of early humans due to a globally catastrophic volcanic eruption. The analysis of lice genes confirmed that the population of Homo sapiens mushroomed after a small band of early humans left Africa sometime between 150,000 and 50,000 years ago. [citeweb|title=Of Lice And Men: Parasite Genes Reveal Modern & Archaic Humans Made Contact|url=­/releases/2004/10/041005075751.htm|publisher="University Of Utah"|accessdate=2008-01-17]


According to this theory, humans once again fanned out from Africa after Toba when the climate and other factors permitted. They migrated first to Arabia and India and onwards to Indochina and Australia (Ambrose, 1998, p. 631), and later to the Middle East and what would become the Fertile Crescent following the end of the Würm glaciation period (110,000–10,000 years ago).

See also

* Supervolcano
* Volcanic winter
* Wallace line
* Year Without a Summer
* Recent African origin of modern humans


External links

* [ Population Bottlenecks and Volcanic Winter]
* [ 1998 article based on news release regarding Ambrose's paper]
* [ Homepage of Professor Stanley H. Ambrose]
* [ Toba Volcano, by George Weber]
* [ Article in "The Economist]
* [ Journey of Mankind by The Bradshaw Foundation - includes discussion on Toba eruption, DNA and human migrations]
* [ Geography Predicts Human Genetic Diversity] ScienceDaily (Mar. 17, 2005) — By analyzing the relationship between the geographic location of current human populations in relation to East Africa and the genetic variability within these populations, researchers have found new evidence for an African origin of modern humans.
* [ Out Of Africa -- Bacteria, As Well: Homo Sapiens And H. Pylori Jointly Spread Across The Globe] ScienceDaily (Feb. 16, 2007) — When man made his way out of Africa some 60,000 years ago to populate the world, he was not alone: He was accompanied by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori...; illus. migration map.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Toba — In geography, Toba may refer to:* Lake Toba, a lake in northern Sumatra, Indonesia, and site of the volcanic Toba eruption 75,000 years ago ** Toba catastrophe theory, according to which modern human evolution was affected by the Toba eruption *… …   Wikipedia

  • Lake Toba — Landsat photo Location North Sumatra, Indonesia Coordinates …   Wikipedia

  • Human evolution — This article is about the divergence of Homo sapiens from other species. For a complete timeline of human evolution, see Timeline of human evolution. Reconstruction of Homo heidelbergensis which may be the direct ancestor of both Homo… …   Wikipedia

  • Doomsday event — A doomsday event is a specific, plausibly verifiable or hypothetical occurrence which has an exceptionally destructive effect on the human race.[1] The final outcomes of doomsday events may range from a major disruption of human civilization, the …   Wikipedia

  • Volcano — This article is about the geological feature. For other uses, see Volcano (disambiguation) …   Wikipedia

  • World population — estimates from 1800 to 2100, based on UN 2004 projections (red, orange, green) and US Censu …   Wikipedia

  • Supervolcano — A supervolcano is a volcano capable of producing a volcanic eruption with an ejecta volume greater than 1,000 cubic kilometers (240 cubic miles). This is thousands of times larger than most historic volcanic eruptions.[1] Supervolcanoes can occur …   Wikipedia

  • Volcanic winter — A volcanic winter is the reduction in temperature caused by volcanic ash and droplets of sulfuric acid obscuring the sun and lowering the albedo (increasing the Earth s reflectivity), during a large particularly explosive type of volcanic… …   Wikipedia

  • Population bottleneck — followed by recovery or extinction A population bottleneck (or genetic bottleneck) is an evolutionary event in which a significant percentage of a population or species is killed or otherwise prevented from reproducing.[1] A slightly different… …   Wikipedia

  • Caldera — A caldera is a cauldron like volcanic feature formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption. They are sometimes confused with volcanic craters. The word comes from Latin caldarium , meaning cauldron (hot bath). In some texts the… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”