How did folktales spread across Europe and Asia? The genome can tell us
The secret of folktale diffusion processes is in the genome, as revealed by a study coordinated by the University of Bologna, recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The study also involved the University of Padua.
The researchers used for the first time genomic data on a global scale to understand how 596 traditional folktales recorded in Europe and Asia, and including Animal Tales and Tales of Magic, spread across the two continents.
The study was carried out by comparing genetic similarities between populations – a measure of their common origin – and the number of folktales shared. The aim was to determine whether the large-scale diffusion was the result of the large migrations of the past or rather the result of exchange of information and goods occurred for thousands of years between human groups.
“Through this study we found that, although transmitted from parents to children, traditional European and Asian folktales are not likely to have spread over long geographical distances following the major migrations that left a trace in our genome”, said the lead author of the study, Eugenio Bortolini.
More generally, the study is an example of how an interdisciplinary research activity able to integrate the study of biological ad genetic data with the quantitative study of cultural evidence can make an important contribution to the understanding of the complex human evolutionary history.