Some magic and supernatural fairy tales may be 6000 years old

A new study, which treats these fables like an evolving species, finds that some fairy tales may have originated as long as 6000 years ago.

To conduct the study, Jamshid Tehrani, an anthropologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom, and colleagues scanned a repository of more than 2000 distinct tales from different Indo-European cultures.

They limited analysis to tales that contained magic and supernatural elements because this category contained nearly all the famous tales people are familiar with.

This narrowed the sample size to 275 stories, including classics such as Hansel and Gretel and Beauty and the Beast.

Researchers have traced certain fairy tales, such as The Smith and the Devil, which tells the story of a blacksmith who makes a deal with the devil in exchange for unmatched smithing prowess, back thousands of years—all the way to the Proto-Indo-European people.

If the analysis is correct, it would mean the oldest fairy tales still in circulation today are between 2500 and 6000 years old. Other stories seem to be much younger, appearing for the first time in more modern branches of the language tree.

In a dispatch, Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom ruminates on what allows these stories to stand the test of time.

“What really interests me is why these cultural forms exist. Why is it that fairy tales, art, songs, poems, why do these things seem to have such longevity?”

Source: Some fairy tales may be 6000 years old | Science | AAAS