THE first sign that something had gone terribly wrong was a deep rumbling roar. Hours later the choking ash arrived, falling like snow in a relentless storm that raged for over two weeks. Despite being more than 2000 kilometres from the eruption, hominins living as far away as eastern India would have felt Toba's fury.
Toba is a supervolcano on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It has blown its top many times but this eruption, 74,000 years ago, was exceptional. Releasing 2500 cubic kilometres of magma - nearly twice the volume of mount Everest - the eruption was more than 5000 times as large as the 1980 eruption of mount St Helens in the US, making it the largest eruption on Earth in the last 2 million years (see "Blown away").
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