Human ancestors were near extinction some 900,000 years ago, says study

© Shanghai Institute of Nutrition and Health, CAS

A study published on Thursday claims that human ancestors teetered on the brink of extinction over 900,000 years ago. Based on a new method of analysis, scientists found that our ancestors survived in a group of less than 1,300 individuals.

While most people nowadays worry about the overpopulation of planet Earth, which is currently hosting more than 8 billion individuals, our ancestors were facing a very different problem.

Using a new technique to analyse genetic data, an international group of scientists suggested that human ancestors suffered a severe population bottleneck starting around 930,000 years ago, in a study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed academic journal Science.

Lasting for almost 120,000 years, this impediment resulted in a drop in the number of child-bearing individuals from around 100,000 to just under 1,300.

This drastic population decline could have spelled the end for humankind, preventing our species from ever walking the Earth, the study said.

A mere 1,280 child-bearing individuals

Although previous studies on human evolution put forward hypotheses of population bottlenecks among human ancestors in the Pleistocene era, scientists had trouble finding sufficient evidence due to the lack of human fossil and archaeological records from this period.

Now, thanks to a new method of analysis used to project current human genetic variation backward in time, scientists have managed to estimate the size of the human population during the Middle Pleistocene period.

In other words, our ancestors could have lived among larger populations.

Read more on FRANCE 24 English

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