London, September 6 (ANI): They have been told as bedtime stories by generations of parents, but according to a new study, fairy tales are more ancient than was previously thought.
To reach the conclusion, Dr Jamie Tehrani, a cultural anthropologist at Durham University, studied 35 versions of Little Red Riding Hood from around the world and realized that they have small variances, indicating a common ancestor.
Until now, it was believed that the tale originated in France shortly before Charles Perrault produced the first written version in the 17th century.
However, similarities in the tales from Europe, China, and Iran indicate that they share a common ancestor dating back more than 2,600 years.
The European version tells the story of a little girl tricked by a wolf masquerading as her grandmother.
In the Chinese version a tiger simply replaces the wolf.
And in Iran, where it would be considered odd for a young girl to roam alone, the story features a little boy.
"Over time these folk tales have been subtly changed and have evolved just like an biological organism," the Telegraph quoted Tehrani as saying.
He added: "Because many of them were not written down until much later, they have been misremembered or reinvented through hundreds of generations.
"By looking at how these folk tales have spread and changed it tells us something about human psychology and what sort of things we find memorable.
"The oldest tale we found was an Aesopic fable that dated from about the sixth century BC, so the last common ancestor of all these tales certainly predated this. We are looking at a very ancient tale that evolved over time."
Also, the original ancestor is thought to be similar to another tale, The Wolf and the Kids, in which a wolf pretends to be a nanny goat to gain entry to a house full of young goats.
And the stories in Africa are apparently closely related to this original tale.
Tehrani said: "We don't know very much about the processes of transmission of these stories from culture to culture, but it is possible that they may being passed along trade routes or with the movement of people."
He will soon present his work at the British Science Festival in Guildford, Surrey. (ANI)