The results of the study, published in the latest issue of the journal Science, challenge all ideas about the past of our planet.
The researchers studied 3154 modern human genomes. Using the latest methods, including the innovative FitCoal, they were able to create a model that predicts the size of the human population in the distant past.
This allowed them to discover the so-called “bottleneck effect”, when the human gene pool critically decreased and then recovered.
The most startling thing about this discovery is that early human ancestors faced catastrophic extinction: at that time, only about 1,280 individuals kept the human population afloat for 117,000 years, between 930,000 and 813,000 years ago.
“About 98.7% of human ancestors were lost,” said study co-lead Haipeng Li of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. “[The] discovery of this bottleneck may explain the chronological gap [in the fossil record at around this time.]”
This period corresponds to a significant chronological gap in the available fossil record of Africa and Eurasia.
What could have caused such a terrible decline in the human population? Scientists suggest that the cause could be global climate change.
The glaciation resulted in a significant drop in temperature, severe droughts, and loss of biodiversity, which greatly reduced the amount of available resources needed for the survival of a large human population.
However, not all was lost. As the climate became more favorable and man mastered the fire, a rapid increase in population began, and mankind was reborn.