Tales like Cinderella and Jack and the Bean Stalk are thought to be hundreds of years old before being written down by the likes of The Brother’s Grimm and Charles Perrault. A modern study that has been published in the Royal Society of Open Science has delved deeper into the subject of these tales origins with surprising results.

The researchers applied a biological technique named ‘phylogenetic analysis’ which is used to understand how organisms have developed over time. Taking into account language families, social behaviours and material cultures, more than a quarter of 76 of the tales analysed are traced to be anything between 4000 and 5000 years old.  

This time period roughly corresponds to the split between the two major branches of the Indo-European language family into its ‘Indic’ and ‘European’ divisions. The tale of Jack and the Beanstalk comes from a prototype formula ‘The Boy Who Steals The Ogre’s Treasure’ with variations on this theme appearing all the way from Sri Lanka to the tip of Norway.

This potentially confirms a theory that for a long time has been discredited put forward by Wilhelm Grimm who argued that all languages within the Indo-European family share common folklore. Although the theory is still out on that one, the latest findings using phylogenetic analysis definitely add something new to the conversation!

Students of any literary discipline and anthropologists should delve more into this fascinating area for a memorable and unique personal statement.

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