What would Toba’s supereruption have been like for our ancient relatives?

What would Toba’s supereruption have been like for our ancient relatives?

In this excerpt from “Mountains of Fire: The Menace, Meaning, and Magic of Volcanoes” (The University of Chicago Press, 2023) by Clive Oppenheimer, the author looks at the supereruption of Toba 74,000 years ago, and what impact it could’ve had on the ancient humans — or their relatives — living in India at the time. 


Yellowstone’s last supereruption took place 640,000 years ago, long before our species emerged. More interesting to consider, I would argue, is Sumatra’s “Youngest Toba Tuff” eruption, just 74,000 years ago. By that time, our ancestors were using advanced stone tool technologies, and likely knew how to tell a good yarn, too. This was a blast 150 times bigger still than Tambora’s, disgorging enough pyroclastic rock to cover the whole of the United States to the depth of a one-storey home. About a third of the deposit piled up on northern Sumatra, and much of the rest lies beneath the floor of the Indian Ocean.

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