Supervolcano eruptions are cataclysmic events that change the shape of Earth's history. New evidence now shows that these world-changing eruptions may not be completely destructive. Humans are still able to survive while feeling the effects of those eruptions.
A team analyzed one of the eruptions that changed the world.
South African Survivors
Humanity was able to pull through one of the largest eruptions in the world, according to a new study in Nature. Not only were people able to pull through this rough period in human history, but they were also able to thrive in an unlikely time. After the Toba supervolcanic eruption 74,000 years ago, one group was able to survive despite the cataclysm that had just occurred.
A research team from Arizona State University found that a human population in South Africa was able to thrive in the time after the eruption. Researchers sifted through soil samples of two different archaeological sites in Vleesbaai and Pinnacle Point, South Africa.
Scientists were looking for examples of cryptotephra, which means hidden ash. Toba's supervolcanic eruption sent glassy products throughout Earth. These pieces of glass have a very specific look that could be identified under a microscope. They have a hook-like shape that is distinctive and can be traced back to the Toba eruption.
This specific population was able to live their lives without being disturbed. Researchers saw evidence that the eruption had no impact on the daily lives of the humans that were living in South Africa.
Scientists speculate that what helped people in these settlements survive was the difference in their diet. Being close to the sea, shellfish may be a better food source than land animals that may have been disrupted by the eruption.
Lake Toba's supervolcanic eruption is the largest eruption of the last 2 million years. It plunged Earth into a nuclear winter 74,000 years ago. Over 2,800 cubic kilometers of debris was kicked up into the atmosphere, creating a huge ash plume that spread from India, Pakistan, and the Gulf. This covered the region in a blanket 3 to 15 feet deep.
Before this recent discovery, not much was known about how the eruption affected life throughout the world. Geologic evidence of the eruption could be found but not the effect it had on human life.
There may have been humans there to witness the eruption, but it is unlikely that those who saw the eruption happen before their eyes were able to survive.