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Toba, Indonesia's super volcano, almost wiped out mankind

73,000 years ago the eruption of an Indonesian super volcano was within inches of obliterating the whole of mankind. Only a few survived. After the Tsunami, Indonesia’s volcanoes have once again become active and the people are afraid.



Volcanic eruptions are even today almost completely unpredictable
Picture by T. Micke

This explosion cannot be compared with anything that has been experienced on Earth since the time when humans could walk upright. Compared to the eruption on the super volcano Toba, even Krakatoa, with its tens of thousands of deaths in 1883, was a tiny belch. And it already had an explosive force of 150 mega tonnes of TNT. In comparison: the Hiroshima nuclear bomb broke open "only" 0,015 mega tonnes, and was destructively speaking 10,000 times weaker than Krakatoa.

As scientists found out, Toba almost wiped out mankind 73,000 years ago. Back then Neanderthal man inhabited our Earth alongside Homo sapiens in Europe, Homo erectus and the recently discovered Homo floresiensis in Asia. It was cold in Europe, the last ice age was in full swing and reindeer, wild horses and giant stag were hunted in our breadths. Alongside the herbivorous nourishment, mammouth and woolly rhinos were occasionally on the menu for humans when Toba, with a diameter of 90 kilometres on the island known today as Sumatra, in the truest sense of the word, "blew up".

Graph: The ash outfall of the Toba volcano was as devastating as the 2 large Yellowstone Park eruptions and the comparatively tiny one on Mount Saint Helen
Picture by Ray Cas

Alongside gigantic Tsunami waves, there was the unimaginable amount of 2800 cubic kilometres of ejected ash, which, evenly spread throughout our planet’s atmosphere, should have reduced the total number of humans to just 5000 to 10,000 survivors, as the Australian vulcanologist Prof. Ray Cas explains in an interview: "The suns rays only weakly reached the ground all around the globe, plants received too little light, the average temperature dropped to 5 degrees, so that summer turned to winter and winter became deadly in Verbindung."

Today we know that humans and their near relatives survived this global Armageddon of nature in small groups, mainly in Africa. It is incredible how scientists found all of that out with the help of thousands of DNA studies of today’s humans. Mag. Bence Viola from the Anthropological Institute of Vienna University: "We examined the DNA in human mitochondria, the powerhouse of cells, and thereby observed that the genetic composition in samples from humans from all over the world had to have been much more different if Homo sapiens were able to have developed in all parts of the Earth without problems."

Actually today’s humans originate from a few thousand survivors and we can attribute the cause to the eruption of the super volcano Toba around 73,000 years ago. So it is a sort of genetic bottleneck, through which not only Homo sapiens had to have been forced, but also all of his relatives that were still living at that time but who died out later on due to other reasons.

Therefore a volcano in the region of Indonesia was responsible for the near destruction of mankind. From the 60 to 70 volcanoes that are to be found in the area today, a remarkable number have become active again in the weeks and months after the seaquake in December. Yet Toba is dozing today deep and safe under a huge sea bearing the same name in Northern Sumatra. Many people fear that if the suddenly active volcano of Talang that lies 300 kilometres south erupts, it could awaken the deadly giant.

US vulcanologist Prof. Ray Cas doing his calculations on the computer
Picture by Ray Cas

Vulcanologist Prof. Ray Cas: "That could actually happen, but only if Toba were ready to erupt and at the moment there is not the slightest indication of that." The expert does think that it is probable that one day another huge eruption will take place: "But that can only happen in 10,000 or even 100,000 years. The Earth is despite all efforts not predictable."

It remains furthermore open to know what would happen to us in the face of such a devastating natural disaster, if a volcanic eruption similar to Toba were imminent. The way things stand today we cannot do anything against it.


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© A report by Tobias Micke (01-05-05) – Contact