Stone Age Apocalypse

2007, Science  -   51 Comments
Ratings: 7.33/10 from 18 users.

Stone Age ApocalypseHuman evolution is believed to have begun some six million years ago. Despite the passage of so much time, the amount of diversity among the DNA of all humans is minuscule.

Some 75,000 years ago, something apocalyptic occurred that left relative few humans alive to carry on the species.

The cause of this bottleneck is now believed to have been a massive volcanic eruption on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

A super-eruption from the site of Lake Toba in Sumatra blasted out more than two hundred cubic miles of ash over an area of over a million square miles.

This program investigates the devastating aftermath of the most powerful volcano of the last twenty-five million years - including the theory that it triggered a human genetic bottleneck leaving a tiny band, as low as a few thousand survivors to preserve the human race - and looks at the threat of super-volcanoes in the 21st century.

More great documentaries

51 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Smashburn

    If this theory is correct, wouldn't ALL life exhibit the same genetic bottleneck?

    1. Matthias Ronck

      If all life had the same life expectancy, and thus the same amount of generations since then, probably yes.

    2. Alex

      Even if some species reproduce more rapidly than others, wouldn't there still be evidence that their population was reduced at one point? On the other hand, not every species would be affected universally by a catastrophic event. Environmental changes that would kill humans or other large land animals wouldn't necessarily kill cockroaches. Not every species would even suffer the bottleneck.

    3. LoggerheadShrike

      Early humans were uniquely vulnerable to disasters and had poor ability to recover. This is because while the lifespan was very short (around 30 or 35 years), it takes a human at least half that lifespan just to mature. Just to maintain the population was a very delicate balance, easily disrupted, relative to most other species. Those species took long to mature tended to also have much longer lifespans, and those with short lifespans reproduce in incredibly vast numbers to compensate. Humans had the worst combination: short lifespan, high infant mortality, long time to mature, and generally only a single offspring per pregnancy (whereas most others have litters of anywhere from half a dozen to thousands).

      With a bad year or two from an ash cloud, almost everything will suffer, but most other species will just quit reproducing or even eat their young, wait it out, then replenish their population when conditions improve. It generally only takes a less than a year for most species to mature. But for humans, with their young not maturing for at least 15 years, and most of the adults only living a total of about 30 years (with only a slice of the adult population being 15 at the time of the incident, most being older) ... well, you see the problem I'm sure! Most of the adults will be dead before they can raise a new batch of offspring. The few that aren't are only going to have time to have just 1 or 2 children apiece before they too die, not even enough to replace themselves and their partners, let alone the rest of the population that didn't have time.

      So likely ... we had to continue to raise the generation of children we already had, continue trying to reproduce through the disaster, and would've lost a great many of that generation while they were young, even so. The generation that followed the one that was adult at the time of the disaster, would have been much, much smaller ... and I would guess the bottleneck happened a decade or so after the disaster itself.

    4. Tom Carberry

      I have asked the same question and from my limited research into articles about genetic bottlenecks, not many researchers have looked at it in large mammals. But at least two creatures had bottlenecks other than humans -- cheetahs and modern cattle. Apparently all modern cattle come from on herd of a form of cattle called an auroch. (I have an amateur interest in the subject, no real scientific knowledge about it other than that gleaned from articles).

      Also, remember the mammoths in Siberia and mastodons in North America died out all at once, all of them.

      I think the 75,000 year date remains open to debate, because I understand they derived that from estimates of the rate of change in parts of the genome. If they made a slight error in the rate, the 75,000 year date could change by quite a lot either way.

  2. urban deadite

    Interesting, i wish they would have mentioned all the other types of Hominids that also survived, i believe their survival and our 'breeding' habits have a lot to do with Homo Sapiens still been around.

  3. Arnie

    Request for National Geographic

    A documentary showing the Great Flood of 10,000BC.

    I would love for the National Geographic to continue with this series looking at the Mediterranean Basin and the Black Sea Basin as they were filled with ocean water as the glaciers dramatically melted back 12,000 years ago in 10,000BC.

    In 10,000BC an asteroid struck the North American ice sheet around Ottawa, Canada and vaporized the 1.5 mile thick ice sheet covering the area and that covering the Great Lakes.

    The huge volume of melt water created during the catastrophe rushed into the Atlantic Ocean via the Ottawa River and St. Lawrence River. The wall of fresh water is thought to have created a megatsunami that spread out across the Atlantic Ocean from the mouth of the St. Lawrence River located on the East Coast of Canada / North America.

    The megatsunami impacted the western coast of France, the Strait of Gibraltar, and Northwestern Africa.

    The force of the megatsunami impacting the coast of Northwestern Africa is now thought to have caused the continental shelf to collapse in 10,000BC causing the submarine landslide that would create Northwestern Africa Abyssal Plain.

    The force of the megatsunami completely breached the Strait of Gibraltar sending a wall of water into the Mediterranean Basin filling up the Alboran Sea, Balearic Sea, Ligurian Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea, Ionian Sea, Adriatic Sea, Aegean Sea, land was then breached to flood the Sea of Marmara, then breaching the land to flood the Black Sea.

    Across the Mediterranean Sea the Atlantic Ocean tsunami would have surged up and over the Nile Delta into the Nile River to flood the Nile River Basin up to a minimum distance of 108 miles submerging the pyramids up to a height of 240 feet.

    Using Google Earth one can look at the Mediterranean Basin and see how such a catastrophic flood caused by an Atlantic Ocean tsunami would have affected the area and human civilization around 10,000BC. All low lying communities and cities near the water's edge would have been washed away.

    The rise of the Mediterranean Sea along its coasts is now known to have reached 804ft-837ft (245m-255m) based on the submerged pyramids to a depth of 240 feet (73m). And that these flood waters propagated inland at a minimum of 108 miles and probably much more.

    Sea level of the Mediterranean was 120 metres lower in 10,000BC, but the Mediterranean Sea was still connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Strait of Gibraltar.

    Interesting research that ties together the asteroid strike in North America in 10,000BC that wipes out the large mammals and the Clovis people, vaporizes the 1.5 mile thick North American ice sheet, that sends a wall of fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean, that causes a megatsunami that races across the Atlantic Ocean breaches the Strait of Gibraltar, sending a megatsunami through the Mediterranean Basin creating a devastating Mega Flood that literally wipes out the known civilization of man living around the Mediterranean Basin at the time.

    The Mediterranean megatsunami races to the end of the basin, over the Nile Delta and up the Nile River for over 108 miles submerging the Giza pyramid complex up to a depth of 240 feet of water. A layer of ocean sediment 14 feet deep is deposited at the base of the pyramid complex and is dated to 10,600BC +- 300 years.

    The ancient Egyptian civilization was sadly wiped out in this catastrophe.

    On the other side of the Mediterranean Sea the megatsunami races into the Aegean Sea, breaches the low lying lands flooding the Sea of Marmara, and then breaching the narrow passage into the Black Sea. The fresh water of the Black Sea then begins to fill with salt water from the ocean.

    The Great Flood of 10,000BC was much more dramatic, much more devastating than anyone has thought possible until now. And it really did effect the entire civilized world at that time living in the Mediterranean Basin and every country on its shoreline.

    The rise of the Mediterranean Sea along its coasts is now known to have reached 804ft-837ft (245m-255m) based on the submerged pyramids to a depth of 240 feet (73m). And that these flood waters propagated inland at a minimum of 108 miles and probably much more.

    The level of the Mediterranean Sea would rise 120m after the event as the Northern American glaciers and those of Europe and Eastern Europe completely melted.

    Further megatsunamis would have been created when the Northwestern Africa continental shelf collapsed from the Atlantic Ocean megatsunami impact.

    The sudden surge of fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean desalinated the ocean water to such a degree that the Atlantic Gulf Stream stopped flowing, sending the Northern climate into another mini ice age for 1,500 years.

    A dramatic period in Earth's history that may be recorded as Noah's Flood and the Great Flood.

  4. Marcos Gonzalez Gutierrez


    interesting stuff, and there seems to be some consensus regarding a massive volcanic explosion taking place sometime ago.

    anyway, if the consequences of such an explosion in biological terms were as damaging for humans, wouldn't they be just as much for all other species which are even less adaptable? was there comparable dna diversity loss for all species?

    the matter of human dna diversity, how big was it before the explosion, how relatively small is it after, and what it means were never delved into. it would have helped if they presented other species' dna evolutionary trees and variabilities for comparison.

    also, the groups that survived such dire circumstances probably already had the skills that helped them survive. the power of culture to transmit and influence behavior is now more devalued in favor of genetic determinism.

  5. kelamuni

    i love all these well educated amateur "scientists" that can't spell or use English grammar in a coherent manner. Could these Einsteins, who are continually posing questions because they can't follow the logic of the presentation, possibly be creationists?

    1. Jane Doe

      You know what they say, only people with no valid arguments choose to focus on grammar and spelling.

      Ah, good old dumbass creationists, may they all trip on a dinosaur bone.

    2. francuccio

      I don't know who "they" are, (people with inferior language skills, no doubt) but those of us who wish to be understood care about grammar and spelling. If you don't, you probably don't care if you're understood, and that may be just as well.
      I give up halfway through some of these comments because they're not worth the trouble of trying to figure out what, if anything, the writer is trying to say.
      By the way, it's widely known that people dismiss as unimportant what they don't have or can't do.

    3. natasha0

      have you not something more interesting to say than that?

    4. harris

      Nope just not a****** grammer freaks , by the way language is dynamic not static - do we speak like shakespare ? Er No.

  6. Saint_John

    Bit Heavy on the assumptions.

  7. KsDevil

    Before the apocalypse, there was a variety of political parties. After, there were only the democrats and republicans and we have been suffering from the loss of political diversity ever since. Silly inbread humans thanks to some natural disaster.

  8. TestTickle

    after reading the depressing newspaper, i really found this video of a super-volcano blowing up mankind very cheerful. i had to laugh at the humor when it said that this event forced what was left of the humans to learn how to cooperate, and i'm sure the major development in communication came from needing to shout insults at each other.

  9. VareVatxingU

    So why were only humans affected? If they say that the differences in DNA between a group of monkeys are greater than the differences between any human on the planet? Doesn't make sense to me...

    1. Guest

      Could it be that maybe there were so, so many more chimps than humans?

  10. lauras33

    This film is absolute bonkers. Authors contradict themselves from very beginning by stating that chips have a greater variety in gene pool comparing to humans. So, if we would follow the logic, after great whatever volcano vent off and killed majority of human population, at the very same moment chips miraculously disappeared from the scene for a six years and reappeared with unharmed gene pool back again.
    That a crap

    1. wald0

      That's a very good point. Still the data is there, I doubt that many people have misread it. So it must have been something that effected us but not chimps, maybe a virus that is long instinct? That would explain why it affected us and not them, and if it died out after its host population (humans) shrank so dramatically, we wouldn't know anything about it. I don't know, its just a guess. I do believe the dna data is correct though, I only question there explanation as to why.

    2. Kateye70

      From what I understand, there had already been a bottleneck in the human population around 100,000 years ago (mitochandrial Eve, remember?). It stands to reason that the existing human population might not have been that large 25,000 years later when the events in the video took place. it was one of just many population bottlenecks that have kept our DNA so similar. I don't believe the chimpanzees had that same issue. Not saying its so--I'm not a scientist--just saying its a possibility.

      Another thought to add...chimps don't make war on their fellow apes. Humans...probably managed to wipe out every other hominid species they may have come across. That's just me being cynical, but read the news. We're not exactly as compassionate as the various religions tell us we should be. Oh, wait...they also tell us not to tolerate other religions...ah well, you see my point?

    3. Eniki520

      An alternative to extinction is that Neanderthals were absorbed into the Cro-Magnon population by interbreeding. This would be counter to strict versions of the Recent African Origin, since it would imply that at least part of the genome of Europeans would descend from Neanderthals.

      The most vocal proponent of the hybridization hypothesis is Erik Trinkaus of Washington University. Trinkaus claims various fossils as hybrid individuals, including the "child of Lagar Velho", a skeleton found at Lagar Velho in Portugal dated to about 24,000 years ago. In a 2006 publication co-authored by Trinkaus, the fossils found in 1952 in the cave of Pe?tera Muierii, Romania, are likewise claimed as hybrids.

      An estimated 1 to 4 percent of the DNA in Europeans and Asians (i.e. French, Chinese and Papua probands) is non-modern, and shared with ancient Neanderthal DNA rather than with Sub-Saharan Africans (i.e. Yoruba and San probands). Genetic research now confirms that non-Africans are part Neanderthal, due to interbreeding between Neanderthals and the ancestors of non-Africans in the Middle East.

    4. Alexander

      every hominid species and every other tribe, i might add, and i think mammoths as well... poor whales, i think they are next on our list, if it still matters

    5. Vilhelmo Weston

      Depends what you mean by "war". There are many instances of a group of chimps or individuals attacking a fellow chimpanzee.

    6. Guest

      @ Vilhelmo Weston

      Good point. They will even attack other chimp groups to annex territory.

    7. Kateye70

      By "war" I meant just that--large groups of humans attacking other humans. For chimps, while there may be occasional instances where one group bullies another out of a choice area, or the ganging up of a large group against a single individual, they aren't wiping out every other ape species in their habitat. Chimps don't maintain standing armies.

      And while there may be traces of other hominid lines in our genome, the truth is that there are no 'others' left who look like us--upright apes. Seems we played a pretty good game of 'out-last, out-wit, out-play, Survivor'.

      The chimps are still sharing their habitats with gorillas, bonobos and other apes and monkeys. But not to worry. The humans are doing a pretty good job of wiping all of them out. Pretty soon, we'll be the only 'great ape' left on the planet. Unless the chimps rise up against us...

    8. Eden KillsWarrior

      Actually chimps do have wars

    9. Kateye70

      I believe I addressed that thought in a second post =)

    10. Jon

      The environmental movement is consciously promoted as a religion because of politics. That is probably the reason for the vigorous effort towards atheism and removal of other religions too.

      Maybe motivating people to do things as opposed to paying them is the appeal for the religious option. The Taliban did this to trick terrorists to participate in 911.

      Anyway, we need to separate religion from the belief system since people may share common beliefs but religious leadership confuse and redirect the charge of followers to go against its own principles.

    11. Janus Agerbo

      Your inability to understand the subject, doesn't make it wrong. Not all species suffer the same bottle necking that humans did.

  11. Jeffrey BigDaddy Shaver

    Sorry to keep the comments off topic, but yeah, this site is a great repository, i've learned so much about so many things. Kudos.

  12. Joey Smallwood

    Absolutely Vlatko here's a beer to you and all the things I've learned on here over the last year! Here here! Loved this one BTW, now I'm dying to go soak in some Toba hot springs!

  13. wald0

    @ BuzzBeak

    I agree about the importance of the link you posted, I have posted the name of the video and the fact that it was available on you tube on this site several times on other threads. If everyone understood the concept of exponential growth the average person would be able to truly grasp issues like the oil crisis and population growth. The video we are talking about does the best job of explaining the concept of any I have seen. Thanks for your efforts to get people to watch it, keep it up.

  14. wald0

    For some reason the video quality on this doc is awful, on my computer at least. Its so dark I can barely make it out in places, and it seems a little fuzzy or something as well. I'm not complaining, after all its free so what is there to complain about it. I just wondered if it was on my end or does everyone else notice it as well?

  15. BeardHero420

    Good doc. I've heard about the thinning of our gene pool that occurred 60-75,000 years ago in 10th grade biology, but beyond that I had little idea of the event itself. Although there is premise of "impending doom" scattered throughout the film (along with a corny dark-techno soundtrack), it presents it in such a way that you have to stand back and consider the fact - we, as we are, are still at the whim of mother nature.

    It pains me to know that 11.3 million people (and rising) are projected to die in East Africa as a result of the current drought - but it is just more proof of nature's power. I'm no "tree-hugger" by any means, but the more we understand and respect the power of nature - the better off we will be as a species, and the greater our chance at survival (should the worst happen).

    On a separate note - I don't think I've personally thanked Vlatko yet. Seriously man, it is sites such as yours (particularly yours) that make the internet great. TDF is the epitome of information freedom and knowledge expansion. Keep it up dude - you're a good man.


    1. Jack1952

      I couldn't agree more with you comment concerning this site. Great docs and many great comment-ors. I spend more time here than anywhere else on the net. Thanks from me, too.

    2. Vlatko

      Thanks @BeardHero420. Nice to hear that.

    3. Baxtalo

      cheers to that. I've probably learned more from this site than I have any other individual source in my life...and in a lifelong pursuit of knowledge...that means a lot.

    4. His Forever

      11.3 million are projected to die in the current drought in East Afrca!?! I cannot even imagine those numbers! I'm sure the animals are suffering badly too. I hate to see that.

  16. His Forever

    Why do all the volcanoes have to be located in the most beautiful places on earth? Why couldn't they just happen in the middle of the desert or someplace like that? If this actually happened the way they surmised it did, then this is really a scary sanario for the future of our planet.

    1. Eniki520

      my guess would be because volcanic soil is some of the most fertile land in the world. so lots of plants grow around them.

    2. Jack1952

      That also applies to flood plains. The soil there is extremely fertile so people live there to take advantage of it. However, they face the dangers that brought about the fertility in the first place.

    3. alans

      The paradox of life.

    4. Achems_Razor

      Deserts are beautiful places also, at least to desert dwellers.

    5. Eniki520

      i agree the Tucson valley in southern Arizona is very beautiful.

    6. Guest

      Love to travel through the desert.

    7. Nakor420

      Actually, the largest of all super volcanos is at Yellowstone National Park. When that finally erupts could spell the end of the human race.

    8. Guest

      Not exactly.

    9. His Forever

      If Yellowstone goes again it will mean the end of the U.S.A. at least. I suspect deaths in the multiple billions worldwide (but not total human extinction) at least as it could cause unexpected famine in some places and bury others in layers of ash in others. I read the Kracatoa erruption starved millions in Africa at the time. The ash from Yellowstone was like glass and cut up the lungs of the prehistoric animals thousands of miles away and they died en mass from lung fungus, etc. The thought is just too terrible to think about.

    10. Epicurus

      It is because volcanic soils are very fertile when they have had the chance to weather and start to break down and release their nutrients.

      Apart from water and carbon dioxide, plants need three essential nutrients to grow: nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. They also need some iron to create chlorophyll, which primary function is to absorb sunlight for photosynthesis to occur within the plant. A process which is possible in the presence of radiant energy (light) where carbon dioxide and water are converted into oxygen and organic materials that can be used within the plant.

      Furthermore, volcanic soil can also supply in small quantities a number of trace elements that may be scarce, but are very important and necessary to allow plants to make the right proteins and other molecules necessary for life

      The fertile soil is a result of the breakdown of various minerals - such as olivine, pyroxene, amphibole, and feldspar (the essential ingredients of volcanic ash and lava) which releases iron, magnesium, potassium etc to the soil.