There is an interesting article in The Times today, Friday, September 1, 2023 which I would like to discuss briefly. The title is “Early humans were on brink of extinction”. Remarkably the research that Kaya Burgess reports on found that the population of Homo sapiens’ ancestors dwindled to less than 1300 adults about 900,000 years ago, which put the human race at that time on the brink of extinction.
Yes, our early ancestors spent 100,000 years on the brink of extinction. The problem was that 98.7% of the population was wiped out by catastrophic climate changes. These changes lead to a buildup of ice at the poles and prolonged droughts.
Let’s think about it, if our ancestors had died out, it is possible that there would have been no humans today on planet Earth. Although that is highly speculative because there were other early humans such as Homo erectus and Homo antecessor which may have survived. There were also the Neanderthals. But the fact that Homo sapiens almost died out a hundred thousand years ago is astonishing.
There may never have been domestic cats! There may never have been any domesticated animals. The planet would have been an entirely different place without humans. Or with a different species of human because we don’t know how the other early ancestors of humans would have developed. Perhaps they wouldn’t have liked domestic cats or dogs.
But it is conceivable, on the basis of this research, that the planet today could be entirely free of a human presence. What you think about that? Would it be a better planet? Probably yes on the basis that Homo sapiens is destroying the planet through global warming!
Scientists from around the world, including the University of Texas, the Shanghai Institute of Nutrition and Health and the University of Florence carried out genomic analysis of modern humans and worked out the population size of our ancestors going back as far as the Pleistocene era.
They decided that the population of pre-modern human declined to only 1280 breeding individuals about 930,000 years ago. And remarkably, they decided that this tiny population remained at this level for 117,000 years.
If you add in the children and older people there would have been a very small population of a few thousand according to the research which was published in the journal Science.
It’s not clear whether this catastrophic event was a global one or localised. It might have been the case that the population crash affected the direct ancestors of Homo sapiens in only one part of the world leaving the other parts unscathed and were Neanderthals and Denisovans lived. It may have been the case that the climatic change catastrophe might not have been a global event.
But if, for example, the Neanderthals had survived and Homo sapiens had become extinct, you can imagine how different the world would be today, populated by modern Neanderthals!
They decided that extinction would have been a real possibility with such a tiny population of early humans but fortunately there was no major disturbance which might have wiped out that tiny number of early humans.