We’re living in a time of catastrophes. In just over a decade we’ve witnessed two unbelievable tsunamis. Two of the five most massive earthquakes in recorded history happened in the last decade. A perfect-storm hurricane nearly wiped out an entire American city. And terrorist attacks have reached an unprecedented magnitude. If real life isn’t scary enough, we’re consistently barraged with Hollywood visions of the apocalypse. Humans face extinction from every direction — from zombie hordes to asteroid impacts. But how close have humans actually come to extinction?
Extinction is something we learned about in school. The last Passenger Pigeon died in 1914. The American Bison population dipped to frighteningly low levels in the 1800s — possibly as low as 541 total animals. And according to one theory, humans had a close call with extinction too.
This is an interesting potential backstory in human evolution. The Toba Catastrophe is a supervolcanic event about 70,000+ years ago in Sumatra. Not to be confused with normal volcanic eruptions, supervolcanic events are orders of magnitude greater than pedestrian volcanic eruptions and have consequences on a global scale. Imagine a Mount St. Helens-style eruption multiplied by a thousand. These eruptions are not a theory, they have happened, and will happen again.
In 1993, a scientist proposed a theory — the genetic bottleneck theory — which, if true, would constitute humanity’s closest call with extinction. Ann Gibbons first suggested the idea in Science in 1993. Genetic science tells us there was a severe dip in total global human population between 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Gibbons theorized that the Toba event caused the dip, and that human population dropped as low as five to ten thousand, globally.
Although the genetic bottleneck theory has not yet achieved mainstream acceptance, it is plausible. The Toba supervolcanic event blasted so much ash into the atmosphere, it is estimated to have darkened the skies and caused a volcanic winter that lasted 6 to 10 years. The global cooling from Toba may have lasted nearly a thousand years. Plant life was heavily impacted. Multiple species of animals either went extinct, or came very close. Food supplies would have been devastated and humans living on planet Earth would have had a very hard time.
Following the genetic bottleneck the theory holds, humans then went through a period of prosperity and innovation, punctuated by widespread breeding and migration. But, as a species, we came within a few thousand individuals of becoming extinct. All due to an event that was natural, and totally out of our control.
In a highball glass, combine the following over ice:
1/3 Cherry Vodka
Splash cherry syrup