London: Early humans survived a massive volcanic eruption 74,000 years ago as well as flourished during the resulting climate change, finds a new study.
The eruption of Mount Toba in Indonesia — the largest in the past 2 million years — was so immense that it spewed ash and smoke around the world, including South Africa, some 6,200 miles away.
According to previous theories, the “winter” of ash and smoke spread thousands of miles and destroyed plants, killed animals and nearly wiped out humans.
The study, published in the journal Nature, counters this view and showed that there was remarkable improvement in the life style of our ancestors during the volcanic event.
It also suggests that settlements there not only endured the catastrophe, but also “thrived”.
Humans were able to survive and adapt, said Eugene I. Smith, from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
For the study, an international team excavated two sites on the south coast of South Africa and found significant evidence of human activity both before and after the eruption.
The findings showed glass shards that are both tiny and hard to come by — roughly 1 in every 10,000 grains of sand.
Smith identified the pieces as cryptotephra, very old microscopic glass shards that were ejected during a volcanic eruption.
When chemically analysed, the team could trace the shards to the Toba super volcano, that was around 9,000 km away.
“Humans in this region thrived through the Toba event and the ensuing full glacial conditions, perhaps as a combined result of the uniquely rich resource base of the region and fully evolved modern human adaptation,” explained Curtis W. Marean, from the Arizona State University in the US.