A controversial digital analysis traces the origins of several well-known folktales
Project Gutenberg/Wikimedia Commons
Back off, Big Bad Wolf. The Ravenous Data Cruncher has cornered “Little Red Riding Hood,” brandishing a statistical exposé of the fictional girl’s hazy past.
In computer analyses that track the evolution of 58 documented folktales, anthropologist Jamshid Tehrani of Durham University in England finds that related versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” spread from a European origin over at least the last millennium.
To illuminate the tale’s history, Tehrani relied on three statistical programs that construct evolutionary family trees, or phylogenies, of people and other organisms based on genetic relationships among living and ancient individuals. Controversial attempts to reconstruct language evolution with phylogenetic methods have also recently appeared (SN: 11/19/11, p. 22).
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