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When humans faced extinction
June 18, 2003 8:07 AM   Subscribe

When humans faced extinction: A new study suggests that around 70,000 years ago there may have been as few as 2,000 individual humans, meaning that we could have been wiped out before we even got started. Related article here.
posted by 40 Watt (34 comments total)

 
We're a virus with shoes.
posted by angry modem at 8:21 AM on June 18, 2003


This reminds me of a tv show I saw on the discovery channel about super volcanoes. The show mentioned that the most recent super volcano to explode happened in Indonesia 70,000 years ago. The blast was so massive that it cause a nuclear winter worldwide with temperatures dropping by as much as 15 degrees Celsius for several years. The show hinted that the super volcano was the cause of what is illustrated in this article.

And for those of you who are wondering, it seems that the United States has a super volcano in its own backyard.
posted by Stynxno at 8:26 AM on June 18, 2003


I wonder if other species of humans would be able to live beside us. We can barely live beside ourselves.
posted by the fire you left me at 8:30 AM on June 18, 2003


Why, then we must be as inbred as hillbillies, ain't we?
posted by dgaicun at 8:41 AM on June 18, 2003


That's nothing. I once read that less than 5,000 years ago there were only two humans. And more recently than that, there were only those handful of humans that Noah brought on board the arc with him.
posted by jonson at 8:57 AM on June 18, 2003


Yikes! I read Stynxno's link. I hadn't heard of that potential from Yellowstone before. Glad I live far away in Maryland.
posted by Red58 at 9:02 AM on June 18, 2003


I'd suggest taking these studies with a grain of salt. Bill Bryson summarizes this sort of claim in his newest book (excellent, by the way). Making the claim, he says, that all genetic strands lead back to a single population is like demonstrating that all roads in England lead back to the same village -- possible, but not true in the sense that we take it.

I would expect these findings to be seriously challenged and drastically revised, as every large-scale statement about the origin of humans has been.
posted by argybarg at 9:23 AM on June 18, 2003


And Red58:

If the single caldera that is Yellowstone Park actually goes off, Maryland won't be far enough away. Try a space colony.
posted by argybarg at 9:24 AM on June 18, 2003


the fire who left me reminded me of something I've wondered about for a while.

If, somehow, other hominids that were not Homo sapiens sapiens had survived into modern times, like Neanderthals , Homo erectus, or perhaps even Australopithecines, would it be OK to domesticate or enslave them? They'd be like humans, but not human. Homo erectus, in particular, could be trained to perform simple tasks, but would very obviously be a "subhuman".

Well? Would it be wrong to do that?
posted by Captain_Tenille at 9:36 AM on June 18, 2003


I wonder if other species of humans would be able to live beside us. We can barely live beside ourselves.

Apparently not.

(Excerpt from the article: Once We Were Not Alone by Ian Tattersall.: "We take for granted that Homo sapiens is the only hominid on earth. Yet for at least four million years, many hominid species shared the planet. What makes us different?")
posted by DenOfSizer at 9:41 AM on June 18, 2003


Captain, I think there was a movie about that.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:43 AM on June 18, 2003


If, somehow, other hominids that were not Homo sapiens sapiens had survived into modern times...

Look around you. What makes you think the Neanderthals didnt' survive? They're all over the place! (Usually yacking on a cellphone while driving... or running the government.)
posted by five fresh fish at 9:53 AM on June 18, 2003


Actually, Neanderthals where not the stupid apemen popular perception make them out to be.

They had a markedly larger brain than modern humans, with approximately the same body size.

Then why did they die out?
Maybe because it was because of their heavier bone structure, that most likely made it impossible or very hard for them to swim.

Or maybe they died out for the same reason VHS survived and BetaMax died: sometimes the inferior product wins.

Or maybe their large brains was their undoing: More birth complications.

Or maybe they didn't die out at all, maybe they interbred with early modern humans to create us, and was thus absorbed into the human race - which leads back to fff's post.
posted by spazzm at 10:07 AM on June 18, 2003


spazzm: I agree with you, which is why I specifically made an example of Homo erectus. Perhaps I should not have included Neanderthals in my post, but I thought they might still fall under the "not quite human" designation.
posted by Captain_Tenille at 10:35 AM on June 18, 2003


before we even got started...started with what? Destroying the world? Man belongs to the world, the world does not belong to man.
posted by hellinskira at 10:40 AM on June 18, 2003


Good thing that ark was so big, huh??
posted by cinderful at 11:06 AM on June 18, 2003


So, 70,000 years ago, they're weren't more than one spread-out tribe of Homo Sapiens. Humans probably had been around for 230,000 years before that, though. 50,000 years ago came the population explosion, probably after the perfection of the voice box. Can a geneticist here say whether a small collection of genes leads to faster development along one evolutionary path, whereas greater diversity leads to overall slower evolutionary development?

If it only took 20,000 years to get the voice box from 2,000 people, when they hadn't had it for 300,000 years, that'd be my guess.
posted by raaka at 11:36 AM on June 18, 2003


Well? Would it be wrong to do that?

Not to be pedantic, but what do you mean by "wrong"? Answer that, and you'll have the answer to your question.
posted by gd779 at 11:38 AM on June 18, 2003


Re: Yellowstone. Oh, come on. Look at the bright side. A supervolcano erruption will guarantee that early 21st Century Western America has its own version of Pompeii, albeit on a larger scale. Perhaps we should launch a mass-graffiti campaign, illustrating West Coast walls with the evils of George W. Bush so that future archeologists will be spend hours in drunken debate wondering how the "Unitedstateams" could elect such a barbarian. While we're at it, why not appropriate what we know of Nero and apply it to Bush? We can claim that Bush slept with his brother Jeb, ran Segway races with young boys dressed in drag sitting next to him, and burned Washington D.C. to the ground.

Maybe we can hire Jayson Blair to spin some of these convincing lies.
posted by ed at 11:46 AM on June 18, 2003


Axe to grind, ed?

Is there really a shortage of political threads on MetaFilter?
posted by argybarg at 11:51 AM on June 18, 2003


Hey, ed: you might want a handi-wipe for some of that froth on your chin.
posted by COBRA! at 11:52 AM on June 18, 2003


re: interbreeding species.. has anyone ever seen a monkey (Chimp or Ape) beastiality fetish on the net? You'd think that would be popular in fetish circles but dogs and horses seem to be the beast porn stars. Perhaps there is an inborn adversion to mateing with monkeys of a diffrent species arising from millions of years of species competition, which would make the theory of Neanderthals mateing with humans less likely.. which current theory supports. Heck just look at 'Planet of the Apes' we get real excited over monkey war but not monkey love.
posted by stbalbach at 1:05 PM on June 18, 2003


Told you the neanderthals were still with us.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:06 PM on June 18, 2003


Making the claim, he says, that all genetic strands lead back to a single population is like demonstrating that all roads in England lead back to the same village -- possible, but not true in the sense that we take it.
Kind of a derail, but I just studied biology in college last semester, with every element being related back to evolution, a concept which the books attributes to coming from a common ancestor, or a common gene pool. I'm not saying yay/nay for evolution, but I had always thought that the theory of evolution attributed itself to coming from a common gene pool, especially on the molecular level with that vast similarities between organisms which seem to go against what Bill Bryson says (I could be misinterpreting things, I'm just curious.
posted by jmd82 at 1:16 PM on June 18, 2003


I've seen this inbred due to a prehistoric near-extinction meme written of cheetahs, too:

Of all wild animals, cheetahs have the lowest genetic diversity and all wild cheetahs are genetically similar to each other. A possible reason is that only one female or a few individuals survived a near extinction about 10,000 years ago due to massive climatic changes.
posted by y2karl at 1:40 PM on June 18, 2003


I remember reading somewhere a theory that modern humans developed in Africa and Neaderthal developed around the same time in Europe, both populations being descended from a common humanoid ancestor (homo erectus I believe) but climatic change led to the isolation of the European population from the main body of humanoids in Africa. Imagine what it must have been like when anatomically modern humans emerged from Africa again and ran into neanderthals in Europe. Clan of the Cave Bear indeed.
posted by pjgulliver at 1:54 PM on June 18, 2003


Does anyone else get a kick out of thinking about what white supremist pricks must feel when confronted with ideas like this? Muhahaha.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:10 PM on June 18, 2003


You'd think that would be popular in fetish circles but dogs and horses seem to be the beast porn stars. Perhaps there is an inborn adversion to mateing with monkeys

I'd bet it has more to do with dogs/horses being more available. Imagine contacting your local exotic animal trainer and asking to rent a monkey for a "secret movie" but you can go out and buy a horse anywhere. Plus the great apes and larger monkeys would have no problem breaking the human actor's spine like a twig and aren't as controlable as a horse.
posted by Mitheral at 3:19 PM on June 18, 2003


Imagine what it must have been like when anatomically modern humans emerged from Africa again and ran into neanderthals in Europe. Clan of the Cave Bear indeed.

A recent cable TV program on the Neanderthals intimated that they are with us today. In profile, the Neanderthal of
today has a receding forehead and receding chin with a protruding nose. ( Also, the program suggested the Neanderthals were intelligent and could speak.) If this is
true, Charles de Gaulle certainly looks neanderthal in profile.
posted by cfm at 4:27 PM on June 18, 2003


Axe to grind, ed?

Is there really a shortage of political threads on MetaFilter?

Hey, ed: you might want a handi-wipe for some of that froth on your chin.


Ed was joking, boneheads, in his usual elegant way. For those of you with a limited facility with language, I note as a public service that there is a difference between satire and 'frothing'.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:43 PM on June 18, 2003


Plus, whut he said was funny.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:20 PM on June 18, 2003


Can a geneticist here say whether a small collection of genes leads to faster development along one evolutionary path, whereas greater diversity leads to overall slower evolutionary development?

I'm going to treat "small collection of genes" as "a low diversity genome" meaning that almost everyone in the population has the same exact version of each gene. Number of genes isn't what's being discussed here really.

So, in terms of speed, it has more to do with how well adapted to the environment the population is, and how that environment changes. If the environment never changes, and the population is very well adapted the population probably won't evolve very quickly. In all cases though, a more diverse genome will let the population evolve more quickly when faced with a new environmental change, or a new opportunity to use resources more efficiently.
posted by rhyax at 8:32 PM on June 18, 2003


In all cases though, a more diverse genome will let the population evolve more quickly when faced with a new environmental change, or a new opportunity to use resources more efficiently.
Or it can have the reverse, such as the Ice Age, when most of the genome is killed off (evolution in of itself does NOT preclude adaptation, as evolution is at its very basic level is a change in allele frequecy (the stuff that controls genes))
posted by jmd82 at 9:57 PM on June 18, 2003


If, somehow, other hominids that were not Homo sapiens sapiens had survived into modern times...

Look around you. What makes you think the Neanderthals didnt' survive? They're all over the place! (Usually yacking on a cellphone while driving... or running the government.)

SF author Robert J. Sawyer recently released the second novel in a trilogy called "Neanderthal Parallax", in which a link to a parallel Earth where Homo sapiens died out and Neanderthals were the intelligent hominid species is discovered. The portrayal of their culture is fascinating, and I can't wait to get started on the second book.
posted by chuq at 5:17 PM on June 19, 2003


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