A new study suggests human ancestors nearly went extinct some 930,000 years ago.
Scientists in China used modern human genomes to estimate what past populations may have looked like.
The study suggests climate change may have been the cause of the drastic population drop.
Do you ever find yourself wondering how humans got to be the way we are? How the species evolved from relying on the once-novel concept of fire for warmth to modern times where you can set your thermostat from your smartphone?
It turns out our human ancestors may have faced a near miss that could have changed everything. Indeed, just like the dinosaurs, we, too, once faced the blessed relief of extinction, a new study suggests.
Scientists in China last week released the results of a study that used current human genomes to make predictions about populations in the past. They found that something — perhaps an ancient climate crisis, they suggest — caused the population of human ancestors to drop drastically.
"We realized we had discovered something big about human history," Wangjie Hu, the author of the story and a computational biologist at New York's Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told The New York Times.
One of the study's predictions suggested that about 98,000 reproductive individuals shrunk to 1,280 reproductive individuals some 930,000 years ago, creating a bottleneck in the population. It took 117,000 years for the population to recover, the study said.
"This bottleneck is congruent with a substantial chronological gap in the available African and Eurasian fossil record. Our results provide new insights into our ancestry and suggest a coincident speciation event," the study's abstract reads.
Some scientists remain skeptical, however, pointing to early humans who spread out from Africa — where our human lineage evolved from — into Europe and Asia and evolved into the Neanderthals and the Denisovans, the Times reported.
Archeologist Nick Ashton told the Times that scientists have found human remains outside of Africa from the same period as the bottleneck, suggesting that a global disaster "only affected a limited population, who may have been ancestors of modern humans."
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