We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Publication details for Dr Jamie Tehrani

Tehrani, J. J. & d'Huy, J. (2017). Phylogenetics meets folklore: bioinformatics approaches to the study of international folktales. In Maths Meets Myths: Quantitative Approaches to Ancient Narratives. Kenna, R., McCarron, M. & McCarron, P. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. 91-114.

Author(s) from Durham


Traditional narratives, like genes, mutate as they are transmitted from generation to generation. Elements of a myth, legend or folktale may be added, substituted or forgotten, generating new variants that catch on and flourish, or vanish into extinction. Reconstructing these processes has been complicated by the fact that traditional narratives are transmitted via mainly oral means, leaving scant literary evidence to trace their development and diffusion. In this chapter we demonstrate how this problem can be addressed using phylogenetic methods developed by evolutionary biologists. We show how these methods can be used to identify cognate relationships among tales from different societies and eras, reconstruct their ancestral forms, and test hypotheses about how stories evolve. We illustrate how three kinds of phylogenetic analysis can be applied to these problems through two worked examples: Little Red Riding Hood and Polyphemus.