When Toba volcano in western Sumatra erupted 73,000 +/- 4000 years ago it was (and still is) the largest volcanic cataclysm to have taken place on planet earth for the last 28 million years.
The eruption happened at a crucial time in the development of anatomically modern humans. We will explore how, whether and to what extent the Toba eruption and its climatic aftermath has influenced the development and spread of modern Homo sapiens.
Therefore, the last Toba eruption (also called the YTT event for “Younger Toba Tuff”, see chapter 3 below) is of enormous scientific and general interest. This article attempts to give an overview and introduction to the subject, based on the ongoing work of many scientists in many fields. It is also hoped that the article will raise interest among both lay people and scientists in the subject.
Many of the most active and dangerous volcanoes on earth are in Indonesia. Only those active since 1900 are shown in the map above. Toba is not shown since it has not been active since 1900. The long line of volcanoes along the Indonesian island arc (which also includes Narcondam and Barren island volcanoes east of the Andaman islands not shown on the map) is the result of plate tectonics: to the west of Sumatra, the Indo-Australian below the Indian Ocean is pushing towards the Sumatra (see maps below).
Fig. 1-3. The deep Java trench marks the line where the Indo-Australian plate subducts, i.e. slips under, the section of the Eurasian plate on which Indonesia sits. While sinking, the Indo-Australian plate heats up and its water content turns to superheated steam under enormous pressure.. Prodigious energies are generated and a part of these energies are released by the volcanoes on the fault line. The speed of that push is 70 mm (2.75 in.) per year, adding up to more than 5 km (3.1 miles) in the 73,000 years since the last major Toba eruption.
Next: The Sleeping Giant