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PostPosted: 16 Sep 2009, 20:44 
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http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/scie ... rigin.html

They have been told as bedtime stories by generations of parents, but fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood may be even older than was previously thought.

A study by anthropologists has explored the origins of folk tales and traced the relationship between varients of the stories recounted by cultures around the world.

The researchers adopted techniques used by biologists to create the taxonomic tree of life, which shows how every species comes from a common ancestor.

Dr Jamie Tehrani, a cultural anthropologist at Durham University, studied 35 versions of Little Red Riding Hood from around the world.

Whilst the European version tells the story of a little girl who is tricked by a wolf masquerading as her grandmother, in the Chinese version a tiger replaces the wolf.

In Iran, where it would be considered odd for a young girl to roam alone, the story features a little boy.

Contrary to the view that the tale originated in France shortly before Charles Perrault produced the first written version in the 17th century, Dr Tehrani found that the varients shared a common ancestor dating back more than 2,600 years.

He said: “Over time these folk tales have been subtly changed and have evolved just like an biological organism. 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.”

Dr Tehrani, who will present his work on Tuesday at the British Science Festival in Guildford, Surrey, identified 70 variables in plot and characters between different versions of Little Red Riding Hood.

He found that the stories could be grouped into distinct families according to how they evolved over time.

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.

Stories in Africa are closely related to this original tale, whilst stories from Japan, Korea, China and Burma form a sister group. Tales told in Iran and Nigeria were the closest relations of the modern European version.

Perrault’s French version was retold by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century. Dr 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.”

Professor Jack Zipes, a retired professor of German at the University of Minnesota who is an expert on fairy tales and their origins, described the work as “exciting”. He believes folk tales may have helped people to pass on tips for survival to new generations.

He said: “Little Red Riding Hood is about violation or rape, and I suspect that humans were just as violent in 600BC as they are today, so they will have exchanged tales about all types of violent acts.

“I have tried to show that tales relevant to our adaptation to the environment and survival are stored in our brains and we consistently use them for all kinds of reference points.”

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PostPosted: 17 Sep 2009, 00:27 
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Interesting. It's like Lord Raglan's Mythic-Hero profile and various collections of creation-myth motifs.

Student of mythology Michael Witzel proposes that there exist some deep similarities in various regions' mythologies. This article contains the most detail that I've been able to find.

He notes that some sorts of mythology may be psychological in origin or provoked by shared circumstances, but he doubts that possibility for mythologies with restricted areas and no clear external circumstances to provoke their occurrence. "Laurasian" and "Gondwanan".

About Laurasian ones, he states
Quote:
First, a general reconstruction is made, based on a number of obvious similarities, of the complete mythological structure. This is characterized by a narrational scheme that encompasses, in succession, the ultimate of origins of the universe and the world, the subsequent generations of the gods, an age of semi-divine heroes, the emergence of humans, the origins of "royal" lineages. It frequently includes a violent end to our present world, sometimes with the hope for a new world emerging out of the ashes. Ultimately, the universe is seen as a living body, in analogy to the human one: it is born from primordial incest, grows, develops, comes of age, and has to undergo final decay and death.


About Gondwanan ones, he states
Quote:
The mythologies of the Australians and that of the Papuas, as well as that of most of sub-Saharan Africa, represent distinct types that are very different from the Laurasian one. It is significant that certain motifs are altogether missing in this Gondwana belt. Typical examples are the lack of creation myths that tell the origin of the world or of the lack of flood myths, or of details such as the lack of female witches. One may also add details such as a literary phenomenon, the preference for improvised magical spells and the disregard of the power of ''true'', well-formulated, and secretly transmitted magical poetry, so typical of much of Laurasia.

While Laurasian mythology can be described as being highly interested in origins, especially the origins of the universe and the succession of the various generations of the gods and that of four subsequent ages, the mythologies of Africa and Australia, New Guinea generally do not take notice of this question and generally confine themselves to describe the emergence of humankind in an already existing world.


A few motifs do seem to be universal, but
Quote:
More importantly, what is significant about the few newly emerging, truly universal motifs is not just their world-wide spread, it is the fact that these universals also occur, but are isolated, in Laurasian myth. They often go against its grain, and are 'superfluous' variants of topics treated comprehensively and systematically in Laurasian myth.

Among these are the creation of humanity from trees, like Ask and Embla in Norse mythology.

Quote:
It thus appears that Laurasian mythology may be an offshoot of the older Gondwana type, underlying the Sub-Saharan African and Papua/Australian mythologies. Based on these three or four types, the earlier version of a Pan- Gaean type might be reconstructed.

In short, Laurasian mythology is the first novel, and the Pan-Gaean motifs are the oldest tales of humankind. At least, they are the oldest ones that actually can be discovered, barring any new insight about Neanderthal speech and ritual.


I do have some problems. Most of the Laurasian examples that he mentions are from societies that have had agriculture and greater social complexity for a long time. As a result, the Laurasian ones would be influenced by the desire of rulers and guilds of priests / sorcerers / learned men to establish their legitimacy.

His new book: The Origins of the World's Mythologies, out next year
His home page, WIkipedia article


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PostPosted: 17 Sep 2009, 07:18 
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I thought you'd like that when I posted it, lpetrich!

I'm glad you did.

I believe that our stories (many of them) are like this Little Red Robin Hood--- older than we think. That the tales whispered around the fire all filled some ancient need, and that the good ones, the most satisfying ones, would be retold and retold and never forgotten.

I also believe that there are some symbols and some concepts that are universal, and would be added into 'new' stories as they are written, tying us all together.

We aren't much different than other animals, no matter how much we like to think we are.

Do you read Non theist Nexus? They published my article on color symbolism a while back. You may be interested in it--- it has nothing to do with the mythic structure or heroes, but a bit to do with human though and why we have it the way we do.

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PostPosted: 17 Sep 2009, 10:06 
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I'm flattered. :D

Some sorts of mythology are due to widely-shared circumstances; the Divine Right of Kings is due to the shared circumstance of political expediency. As Daniel Dennett has noted, there does not have to be a genetic basis for carrying water in containers with the open end up. It is most likely a result of learning how to hold them that keeps the water in place. The shared circumstance here is the laws of physics.

That article is now in the new Nontheist Nexus blog: Black, Red and White: Colour Symbolism Throughout Cultures – by jess

That's an interesting essay on color symbolism, though it must be said that some of it is likely provoked by environmental cues. It's easier to see in light areas than in dark areas, so light areas are a more convenient place to be than dark ones.

I'm reminded of the Berlin-Kay sequence of color terms, discussed in places like these course notes and this paper. Here is the sequence:

White and Black, or more broadly, light and dark. Intensity represents the most basic sort of perception of light; perception of colors is an add-on to it.

Warm and Cool Colors, warm: white and red - yellow / cool: black and. green - blue

Red, the most perceptually salient (standing-out) of the colors; it initially includes orange and yellow ("row")

Yellow, Green, and Blue, which can follow several routes.

Green/Blue, Yellow, Yellow/Green/Blue

Yellow + Green/Blue, Yellow + Green, Yellow/Green + Blue

Yellow + Green + Blue

The first one in each step is the most likely one, with the second and third ones being less likely. A word for green/blue is sometimes called a word for "grue".

Brown

Pink, Purple, Orange, Gray


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PostPosted: 17 Sep 2009, 20:26 
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Thanks for the links!

My research into color showed the same sort of scale you quoted, only in how we recognize colors---

in my article, I talked about black, white and red. After those colors are used by a culture, if the culture ever uses others, all cultures start recognizing other colors in about the same order--- the order you listed.

hmmmm....

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PostPosted: 18 Sep 2009, 04:19 
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A shorter way of expressing this sequence is

Wh / Bk
Wh Rd Yl / Gn Bu Bk
Wh / Rd Yl / Gn Bu Bk
Wh / Rd Yl / Gn Bu / Bk -- Wh / Rd / Yl / Gn Bu Bk -- Wh / Rd / Yl Gn Bu / Bk
Wh / Rd / Yl / Gn Bu / Bk -- Wh / Rd / Yl / Gn / Bu Bk -- Wh / Rd / Yl Gn / Bu / Bk
Wh / Rd / Yl / Gn / Bu / Bk

--

As to mythology, I remember calculating Lord Raglan scores for lots of people, and I was struck by why some incidents in the lives of legendary heroes never happen to well-documented heroes of recent times.

Like how nobody tries to kill them in their infancy, something common among legendary heroes:
Laius vs. Oedipus
Acrisius vs. Perseus
Hera vs. Hercules
Amulius vs. Romulus
Kronos vs. Zeus
Pharaoh vs. Moses
Herod vs. Jesus Christ
Kamsa vs. Krishna

Why not
Fundies vs. Charles Darwin
Slaveowners vs. Abraham Lincoln
Jews vs. Adolf Hitler
?

At the other end of a hero's life, I notice the great willingness of many people to believe conspiracy theories about the death of JFK. It seems strangely unsatisfying to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone lunatic who acted alone, just like every other President-killer or President-would-be-killer. It's almost as if it takes some much bigger force to bring down a hero.

Could there be something psychological in this?


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PostPosted: 18 Sep 2009, 08:15 
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probably.

We don't want them to be just human.

And I'm sure that stories will be added to the heros--- like the Cherry tree of Washington.

Hacving a written history will hamper than, though, in a way it never could Hercules.

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