The TOBA Super-eruption

HUMANS AND THE TOBA SUPER-ERUPTION 74,000 YEARS AGO: BEFORE AND AFTER THE ‘BIG BANG’

Professor Michael Petraglia,Oxford (Principal Investigator),  Prof. Ravi Korisettar, Karnatak (Principal Investigator), Prof. J.N. Pal, Allahabad (Principal Investigator), Dr Nicole Boivin,Oxford (Co-Director)

Excavation on the Toba project

The Toba super-volcano has erupted explosively a number of times over the past 1.2 million years. By far the largest and most destructive of these occurred around 74,000 years ago, and it is this ‘Youngest Toba Tuff’ or YTT eruption that forms the focus of this research project. At least 2800 cubic kilometres of volcanic material was ejected during this super-eruption, dwarfing historical eruptions such as Krakatoa and Pinatubo.

At the time of the Toba eruption 74,000 years ago, humans shared the Earth with a number of similar species, including the cold-adapted Neanderthals and the dwarf Homo floresiensis. All these species made stone tools, gathered plants and hunted animals for their livelihood, and all survived the eruption and its after-effects. Nevertheless, when palaeo-climatic records are combined with genetic data that may indicate an abrupt decline in the number of humans (a genetic ‘bottleneck’) at about the time of Toba’s super-eruption, the possibility that we were driven to the edge of extinction deserves investigation. One of the most critical missing keys in understanding Toba’s impact is a lack of archaeological research looking at the actual remains left by humans who were directly affected by the YTT ashfall, particularly in India.

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