They put the number at 18,500 people, but this refers only to breeding individuals, the “effective” population. The actual population would have been about three times as large, or 55,500.
Comparable estimates for other primates then are 21,000 for chimpanzees and 25,000 for gorillas. In biological terms, it seems, humans were not a very successful species, and the strategy of investing in larger brains than those of their fellow apes had not yet produced any big payoff. Human population numbers did not reach high levels until after the advent of agriculture.
That notion that humans were not very successful is an interesting one, especially considering how far-ranging they were by that point. By that tims, hominins were found all over Africa, all the way to Indonesia, along the northern Mediterranean rim and even as far septentrionally as the Republic of Georgia (i.e., the Dmanisi specimens). I'll be curious to see how the study accounts for this, unless this is it:
But that estimate would apply to the worldwide population only if there were inbreeding between the humans on the different continents. If not, and if modern humans are descended from just one of these populations, like Homo ergaster in Africa, then the estimate would apply only to that.
Richard G. Klein, a paleoanthropologist at Stanford, said it was hard to believe the population from which modern humans are descended was as small as 18,500 “unless they were geographically restricted to Africa or a small part of it.”
Can't wait to read the paper.