Can you imagine a time when there were only about 1,300 humans left on Earth? A chilling discovery suggests that nearly 900,000 years ago, our ancestors faced such a crisis, and it was all because of changes in the planet’s climate. On August 31, 2023, researchers Nick Ashton and Chris Stringer shared a groundbreaking study that took place at SCIENCE, revealing the drastic effects of ancient climate change on early human populations.



Travel with me for a second back to a time almost a million years ago. This era, known as the Middle Pleistocene transition, was marked by a major climate shift. Picture the Earth getting really chilly, reminiscent of the icy periods you read about in history books – vast landscapes blanketed in snow and ice, posing immense challenges for many living creatures, humans included.

Determining the human population during this chilly phase and understanding their challenges is a tough task. The reason? There’s a lack of human fossils or old artifacts from this era. Think of it as attempting a puzzle where you’re missing most of the pieces.


Utilizing cutting-edge genetic methods, Ashton and Stringer have shed light on the challenges faced by humans during this intense cold era. It’s truly a tale that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

It appears that our long-ago relatives encountered a drastic decline in their numbers starting about 930,000 years ago, and this lasted for an astonishing 120,000 years. This phenomenon, where the population dramatically reduces, is referred to as a “population bottleneck.” Picture it as trying to pour a big bag of rice through a tiny funnel; only a few grains can pass through at a time.

What’s even more shocking is that, during the height of this challenging period, the total count of humans able to reproduce dwindled to a startlingly low figure – approximately 1,300. To give you a clearer idea, imagine if all of humanity was just the size of a large high school’s student body!

Authors and Research

The minds behind this extraordinary discovery, Nick Ashton and Chris Stringer, are experts in their field. They spent countless hours analyzing data and using advanced genetic techniques to piece together this ancient mystery. Their findings were published in the respected scientific journal, SCIENCE. If you’re curious about the nitty-gritty details of their study, you can check it out here.

Next Steps/Further Research

The revelations from this research have left the scientific community buzzing with excitement. But like every groundbreaking discovery, it also raises more questions. How did humans adapt and survive through this chilling period? Were there other factors at play that helped our ancestors bounce back?

There’s a whole world of history waiting to be unraveled. Scientists will now look at other archaeological and climate records to understand better this time in our past. By doing so, they hope to gather more insights into this challenging period and the incredible resilience of the human spirit.

So, the next time you feel the chill of a cold winter’s day, remember – our ancestors faced even colder times and made it through. And thanks to researchers like Ashton and Stringer, we’re slowly piecing together the incredible story of our survival.

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