Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Cultural anthropology

Biology tool uncloaks folk-tale evolution

Phylogenetic analysis, a method that biologists use to infer evolutionary relationships between species, can be used to trace the ancestry of folk tales such as Little Red Riding Hood.

Anthropologists have struggled to find ways to group similar tales from different cultures. Jamshid Tehrani at Durham University, UK, approached the problem by creating an evolutionary 'tree' similar to those used to reveal common ancestors among biological species.

Tehrani treated each of 58 variations on Little Red Riding Hood as a separate species and analysed 72 varying plot elements from each tale to produce a tree displaying the tales' relationships. Notably, the analysis showed that African versions of the story are closely related to another fairy tale, The Wolf and the Kids, whereas East Asian versions probably evolved by combining the two with local tales.

Credit: Little Red Riding Hood by Gustave Dore/Natl Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia/Bridgeman Art Library

PLoS ONE 8, e78871 (2013)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Biology tool uncloaks folk-tale evolution. Nature 503, 314 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/503314a

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/503314a

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing