When it comes to the origin of Western fairy tales, the 19th century Brothers Grimm get a lot of the credit. Few scholars believe the Grimms were actually responsible for creating the tales, but academics probably didn’t realize how old many of these stories really are. A new study, which treats these fables like an evolving species, finds that some may have originated as long as 6000 years ago.
This approach allowed the researchers to trace certain tales, such as The Smith and the Devil, which tells the story of a blacksmith who makes a deal with the devil in exchange for unmatched smithing prowess, back thousands of years—all the way to the Proto-Indo-European people . If the analysis is correct, it would mean the oldest fairy tales still in circulation today are between 2500 and 6000 years old. Other stories seem to be much younger, appearing for the first time in more modern branches of the language tree.