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Archaeology: Surviving the Mount Toba super-eruption

Nature Communications

February 26, 2020

Modern human occupation of northern India spanned the Mount Toba super-eruption around 74,000 years ago, suggests a study published in Nature Communications this week. The paper reports the discovery of stone tools from a site in the Son River Valley, which indicates that it has been continuously occupied over the last 80,000 years. The findings provide insights into the eastward dispersal of our species out of Africa.

It has been argued that the eruption of Mount Toba in Sumatra, Indonesia caused an extended volcanic winter that disrupted human dispersal out of Africa and the colonization of Australasia. The effect on human populations has been debated, but archaeological evidence from key regions (such as India) has been limited.

Chris Clarkson and colleagues report a large collection of stone artefacts from archaeological excavations at Dhaba in the Middle Son River Valley of India. They found that tools from around 80,000 years ago consisted of a Levallois core assemblage (stone tools created by flint knapping), until approximately 48,000 years ago when there was a shift to microlithic technology (the production of smaller stone tools, typically a few centimetres in length). The continuity in the archaeological record suggests that local populations were able to survive the Mount Toba eruption.

Similarities between the Levallois tool technology at Dhaba with those found in Arabia between 100,000 and 47,000 years ago and in northern Australia 65,000 years ago suggests linkage of these regions by an early modern human dispersal out of Africa.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-14668-4

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