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article imageFairy tales much older than thought — One dates to Bronze Age

By Sravanth Verma     Jan 31, 2016 in Entertainment
Dr Jamie Tehrani, an anthropologist at Durham University and Sara Graça da Silva, a folklorist from New University of Lisbon, report that many fairy tales probably go back thousands of years.
Using techniques that usually find application in biology, they studied the linkages between 275 fairy tales in the Indo-European language family. Fairy tales like Beauty and the Beast and Rumpelstiltskin were part of the study. These stories were only written down in the last 300 years, but the two researchers found that their origins go back much further in time to about 4,000 years ago. Some fairy tales originated “long before the emergence of the literary record” the researchers said.
The new technique used was to map the stories through common languages and geographical proximity because folk tales were transmitted by the spoken word, and generation to generation.
Tehrani said: “We find it pretty remarkable these stories have survived without being written. They have been told since before even English, French and Italian existed. They were probably told in an extinct Indo-European language.”
Even when the Brothers Grimm wrote down and disseminated these stories to larger audiences in the nineteenth century, Wilhelm Grimm already believed that they dated back to a common cultural history. The cross-cultural links between fairy tales has been documented to some extent, but this is the first time researchers have been able to push back the antiquity of many of these stories to such early dates.
The oldest story the researchers could trace was one called The Smith and the Devil, estimated to be 6,000 years old, going back to the Bronze Age. Though the story itself may not be very familiar to most people today, the plot might be familiar to many, and has a blacksmith selling his soul to the devil in return for supernatural abilities. The blacksmith then tricks the evil power. The story resonates with Isaac Asimov's short story Gimmicks Three.
The study titled "Comparative phylogenetic analyses uncover the ancient roots of Indo-European folktales" was published in the Royal Society Open Science journal.
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