Humans thrived in South Africa through the Toba eruption about 74,000 years ago

Eugene I. Smith, Zenobia Jacobs, Racheal Johnsen, Minghua Ren, Erich C. Fisher, Simen Oestmo, Jayne Wilkins, Jacob A. Harris, Panagiotis Karkanas, Shelby Fitch, Amber Ciravolo, Deborah Keenan, Naomi Cleghorn, Christine S. Lane, Thalassa Matthews, Curtis Marean

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Abstract

Approximately 74 thousand years ago (ka), the Toba caldera erupted in Sumatra. Since the magnitude of this eruption was first established, its effects on climate, environment and humans have been debated. Here we describe the discovery of microscopic glass shards characteristic of the Youngest Toba Tuff - ashfall from the Toba eruption - in two archaeological sites on the south coast of South Africa, a region in which there is evidence for early human behavioural complexity. An independently derived dating model supports a date of approximately 74 ka for the sediments containing the Youngest Toba Tuff glass shards. By defining the input of shards at both sites, which are located nine kilometres apart, we are able to establish a close temporal correlation between them. Our high-resolution excavation and sampling technique enable exact comparisons between the input of Youngest Toba Tuff glass shards and the evidence for human occupation. 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)511-515
Number of pages5
JournalNature
Volume555
Issue number7697
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 22 2018

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Smith, E. I., Jacobs, Z., Johnsen, R., Ren, M., Fisher, E. C., Oestmo, S., Wilkins, J., Harris, J. A., Karkanas, P., Fitch, S., Ciravolo, A., Keenan, D., Cleghorn, N., Lane, C. S., Matthews, T., & Marean, C. (2018). Humans thrived in South Africa through the Toba eruption about 74,000 years ago. Nature, 555(7697), 511-515. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature25967