Fairy tales could be older than you ever imagined
Fairy tales could be older than you ever imagined Could your favorite fairy tale be older than previously thought? (Thinkstock)
Fairy tales could be older than you ever imagined
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A few hundred years ago, fairy tale writers like the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Perrault helped bring magical tales of princesses, evil ogres, dark forests, weird spells and thwarted love into the storybooks and to the bedsides of children. But how old are the tales they transcribed? A study suggests that their origins go all the way back to prehistory.
 
The new study has been published. It is in the journal Royal Society Open Science. In it, a folklorist and anthropologist say that stories like Rumpelstiltskin and Jack and the Beanstalk are much older than originally thought. Instead of dating from the 1500s, the researchers say that some of these classic stories are 4,000 and 5,000 years old. This contradicts previous speculation. It was thought that story collectors like the Brothers Grimm were relaying tales that were only a few hundred years old.
 
It's pretty hard to figure out how old fairy tales are. That is, if you use simple historical data. The tales were passed down orally. They can be almost impossible to unwind. That is, if you use a historian or anthropologist's traditional toolbox. The team borrowed from biology, instead. The team used a technique called phylogenetic analysis. 

Usually, phylogenetic analysis is used to show how organisms evolved. In this case, researchers used strategies created by evolutionary biologists. They traced the roots of 275 fairy tales. The biologists used complex trees of language, population and culture.
Using the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales, a kind of uber index that breaks fairy tales down into groups like "the obstinate wife learns to obey" and "partnership between man and ogre," the team tracked the presence of the tales in 50 Indo-European language-speaking populations. They were able to find the ancestries of 76 tales. They tracked them backward using language trees.
 
As they tracked, they found evidence that some tales were actually based in other stories. More than a quarter of the stories turned out to have ancient roots.  Jack and the Beanstalk was traced back to the split between Western and Eastern Indo-European languages. That was more than 5,000 years ago. A tale called The Smith and the Devil appears to be more than 6,000 years old.
 
The findings might confirm the long-disregarded theory of fairy tale writer Wilhelm Grimm. He thought that all Indo-European cultures shared common tales. But not everyone is certain that the study proves fairy tales are that old. As Chris Samoray writes for Science News, other folklorists are finding fault with the study. It insists that The Smith and the Devil dates back to the Bronze Age. That's a time before a word for "metalsmith" is thought to have existed.

Are the days of using historical records and written clues to learn more about a culture's oral history numbered? No way, says the research team. "Of course, this does not diminish the value of excavating the literary record for evidence about the origins and development of oral tales," they write. Researchers will still keep looking for the origins of fairy tales in books, too. In the meantime, it might be time to pick up that once-familiar storybook and dream about who told the same tales thousands of years ago.

Source URL: https://www.tweentribune.com/article/tween56/fairy-tales-could-be-older-you-ever-imagined/

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How can these stories be so old?
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COMMENTS (85)
  • sofiap-3-bar
    5/19/2016 - 10:19 p.m.

    These stories are so old because they were written by 100+ year old writers. "A few hundred years ago, fairy tale writers like the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Perrault helped bring magical tales of princesses, evil ogres, dark forests, weird spells and thwarted love into the storybooks." (Paragraph 1) Some stories might be vary old because they were passed down to other generations. Some stories might even be older than when they were written. For example, Rumpelstiltskin and Jack and the Beanstalk. "Instead of dating from the 1500s, the researchers say that some of these classic stories are 4,000 and 5,000 years old. " (Paragraph 2) I liked this article because it was cool to learn about how some of the stories I read when I was younger were written such a long time a go.

  • raymunda-4-bar
    5/19/2016 - 10:24 p.m.

    These stories can be so old because it might date back to their language, and how they are composed in their family tree. Scientists analyzed that there are language family trees that connect to many stories such as, "Jack and the Beanstalk" and can be traced all the way back to prehistory. They even found that, "As they tracked, they found evidence that some tales were actually based in other stories. More than a quarter of the stories turned out to have ancient roots." (Paragraph 5, Erin Blakemore) This shows that the stories actually date back for so long, that they were inspired with other, original stories.
    Their article seems interesting because I've seen a YouTube video that shows happy fairy tales were actually based off a bad ending. I bet the original makers of the stories invented the idea. I found this article surprising because I never thought it was WAY back to prehistory!

  • paigea-3-bar
    5/19/2016 - 11:22 p.m.

    These stories can be so old because they are based off of stories that are over 6,000 years old. The stories would build after each other. We can't even trace how far back most of these stories go because they were told orally. The article states, "It's pretty hard to figure out how old fairy tales are. That is, if you use simple historical data. The tales were passed down orally. They can be almost impossible to unwind. " It also stated, "Usually, phylogenetic analysis is used to show how organisms evolved. In this case, researchers used strategies created by evolutionary biologists. They traced the roots of 275 fairy tales. The biologists used complex trees of language, population and culture." I enjoyed this article and I found it interesting how the stories would evolve after each other.

  • erino-6-bar
    5/19/2016 - 11:28 p.m.

    Common fairly tales are much older than most people think. In a scientific study, researchers "found evidence that some tales were actually based in other stories. More than a quarter of the stories turned out to have ancient roots." These stories have been around for up to 6,000 years old because many tales with common themes in today's books were in stories that people told back then. The story would evolve as it was passed from one generation to the next. The stories were not recorded until much later which caused people to think they were created a few decades ago when in reality they had been told for thousands of years.

    I never read a lot of fairy tales when I was younger but it was interesting to see how long these stories have existed.

  • simonak-3-bar
    5/19/2016 - 11:33 p.m.

    These stories can be so old because they were passed down orally. when describing the study, it is states that "the tales were passed down orally." This means that the stories can be old because they were passed down through generations orally, which is hard to trace down, making it a good guess that these stories are very old.
    My opinion on this article is that it is very interesting.

  • kaleal-2-bar
    5/20/2016 - 12:39 a.m.

    These stories can be so old because they were shared by people generation after generation. Also, one story could get imbellished and turned into a completely new tale. I was interested in this article because fairy tales were a big part of my past, when i was younger.

  • madelinew-1-bar
    5/20/2016 - 12:49 a.m.

    These stories can all be quite old because they've been passed down orally through generations. Eventually, people began writing them down on paper and they became the well known stories we know today.
    I really liked this article. I love fairytales and enjoyed learning about them more.

  • yuaw-3-bar
    5/20/2016 - 01:06 a.m.

    Stories can be as old as "4,000 and 5,000 years old. " (paragraph2) because even before the writers of some fairy tales, some stories are thought to be gotten by ancient folk tales or folklore. As you look back in that ancient language trees, stories can go as far back as the bronze age.
    I thought this was interesting because it shows how us humans have had traditions in telling stories a long time back. Some classic stories everyone knows since they were young are brought down generation to generation making these stories older than you can ever imagine.

  • olgan-4-bar
    5/20/2016 - 01:42 a.m.

    The stories are so old because in the prehistoric times, you would tell stories to entertain yourself. The article states " the tales were passed down orally " meaning that people added their own twist to it while narrating it until it was finally printed. I found this article mediocre since I already knew that lost stories date from a very long time ago.

  • oliviam-6-bar
    5/20/2016 - 08:53 a.m.

    Many historians are now saying that "some of these classic stories are 4,000 and 5,000 years old." But why are they so old? This is because "A tale called The Smith and the Devil appears to be more than 6,000 years old." Maybe other fairy tails are the same way.

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