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 auteurs 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 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 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/tween78/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 (20)
  • calis-3-bar
    5/24/2016 - 07:12 p.m.

    These stories can be so old, having "More than a quarter of the stories turned out to have ancient roots.", because they have been passed down from generation to generation. At one point, someone created these tales and orally passed them down; leaving no record behind of when the story was first told. So, we have to analyze historical data to try and find the date these stories originated from, going back thousands of years, making the stories ancient. I enjoy reading fairy tales which lead to me enjoying this article. It was interesting and it is cool to see how we are able to trace back the age of things that are thousands of years old.

  • collinf-2-bar
    5/24/2016 - 09:02 p.m.

    The stories could be so old because it is very hard to tell when they originated. This is because, in the past stories were passed down orally. "It's pretty hard to figure out how old fairy tales are if you use simple historical data. The tales were passed down orally. They can be almost impossible to unwind."

    I liked this article because I find fairy tales interesting.

  • vincents-1-bar
    5/26/2016 - 08:47 p.m.

    These stories can be so old because they have probably required much development and that they are diverse. The article states that fairy tales "bring magical tales of princesses, evil ogres, dark forests, weird spells and thwarted love into the storybooks and to the bedsides of children." Since there is so many obscure components that are found in fairy tales' literature, it obviously would have to have some sort of development that could help incorporate these wondrous characters into such stories. Each idea and character from fairy tales seems completely unrelated and with different concepts behind them; a random author and a couple hundred years of revise and adaptions still could not have forged such a creative style. The fairy tales needed more interpretations, add-ons, and especially time in order to receive more development and input from other cultures with different thoughts to forge such a spectacle of converging ideas.
    The fair tales are also quite diverse. The article states: "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." If fairy tales mingle among different countries and regions of different tongues, then it would be lengthy for the story to be made. Places would have to have more time for it to get this diverse; for the story to physically travel around the world by any means (and, since fairy tales were made before the Transportation Revolution, it would be quite lengthy to do so.) The fairy tale must have had significant time for its making as it evidently had many cultures adding to and changing it, all of which live in physically different places.

  • lucasddd-3-bar
    5/26/2016 - 09:22 p.m.

    The stories can be so old because they are well known by many and have been passed down for many many generations. The third paragraph states "It's pretty hard to figure out how old fairy tales are if you use simple historical data. The tales were passed down orally."
    This article was interesting and I enjoy fairy tales a lot.

  • carlym-4-bar
    5/26/2016 - 11:04 p.m.

    These stories are so old because they were passed down from generation to generation. "It's pretty hard to figure out how old fairy tales are if you use simple historical data. The tales were passed down orally."
    I found this article interesting because I didn't know that fairy tales were that old.

  • katherinep-6-bar
    6/01/2016 - 07:41 p.m.

    The stories can be this old because they are told orally through out generations of people. People may have made up the story thousands of years ago but it depends if somebody published it that it got popularity from so many people knowing the story.

  • miral-6-bar
    6/02/2016 - 03:11 p.m.

    These stories could be old because they were told though out, many different generations of families. "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." I found this article very entertaining because i love old literature.

  • jackw-4-bar
    6/03/2016 - 10:59 a.m.

    The stories can be so cold because it has been passed on from generation to generation and no one knows how long it has been passed down for. I found this article interesting because I knew some fairy tales worth passed down, but I thought this generation or the generation before one of these.

  • polivia-dav
    9/08/2016 - 04:25 p.m.

    In response to this article, I find it very interesting that fairytales were older than I imagined. I cant believe they go back to prehistorical times. This was about 4,000-5,000 years ago. It says in the article that researchers originally thought they were a couple hundred years old. They were way off! The oldest ones that people found were Rumpelstiltskin and Jack and the Beanstalk. I imagine there are many more. Even though I thought these tales were way younger, Its cool to know they came from thousands of years ago.

  • sheilak-pav
    9/12/2016 - 10:01 a.m.

    these stories are so old because the were passed down from generation to generation orally, not only from father to son but from mother to daughter as well.

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