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Hunter-Gatherers Thrived Through Volcanic Winter After Mount Toba Supervolcano Eruption

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Supervolcano Mount Toba erupted on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, about 74,000 years ago and caused catastrophic environmental calamity.

Most Powerful Volcanic Eruption In The Past 2 Million Years

Some scientists think that the eruption, the most powerful in the past 2 million years and the strongest since the human species emerged in Africa about 300,000 years ago, may have nearly caused the extinction of humans.

Some research suggests that the eruption dimmed the sunlight, setting off a decades-long volcanic winter that damaged the ecosystems and deprived humans of food resources.

Researchers of a new study, however, said that despite the devastating impact of the supervolcanic eruption, it was business as usual for some populations that survived.

Hunter-Gatherers Thrived Through Supervolcano Eruption

In their new study published in the journal Nature, Erich Fisher, from the Arizona State University's Institute of Human Origins, reported that excavations at two archeological sites on the southern coast of South Africa turned up microscopic shards of volcanic glass from the explosion, which occurred about 5,500 miles away.

The shards were discovered at a rockshelter called Pinnacle Point near Mossel Bay town, where people lived, slept, and cooked food, and at an open-air that sits 6 miles away where people created tools made of bones, wood, and stone.

People inhabited the rockshelter 90,000 to 50,000 years ago. The researchers said that they did not find signs that the inhabitants abandoned the site at the time of the eruption.

Digital models of the site also suggest that the hunter-gatherers who lived here thrived, and the Toba eruption did not seem to have significantly impacted their daily lives.

"These models tell us a lot about how people lived at the site and how their activities changed through time," said Fisher. "What we found was that during and after the time of the Toba eruption people lived at the site continuously, and there was no evidence that it impacted their daily lives."

Strategic Location

Researchers think that the seaside location may have helped with the people's survival, as this could have provided them with refuge and marine food sources such as shellfish that were less sensitive than inland animals and plants when it comes to the environmental effects of the eruption.

"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," the researchers wrote in their study.

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