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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Aug 22;114(34):9140-9145. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1614395114. Epub 2017 Aug 7.

Inferring patterns of folktale diffusion using genomic data.

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Complexity and Socio-Ecological Dynamics Research Group, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Institución Milá y Fontanals, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), 08001 Barcelona, Spain;
Department of Humanities, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, 08005 Barcelona, Spain.
Laboratory of Molecular Anthropology, Department of Biological, Geological, and Environmental Sciences, University of Bologna, 40126 Bologna, Italy.
Estonian Biocentre, 51010 Tartu, Estonia.
Department of Biology, University of Padova, 35131 Padua, Italy.
Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, CB2 3DZ Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, 07745 Jena, Germany.
Institute for the Study of Literature and Tradition, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, New University of Lisbon, 1069-061 Lisbon, Portugal.
Centre for the Coevolution of Biology and Culture, Department of Anthropology, Durham University, DH1 3LE Durham, United Kingdom.
Centre for the Coevolution of Biology and Culture, Department of Anthropology, Durham University, DH1 3LE Durham, United Kingdom


Observable patterns of cultural variation are consistently intertwined with demic movements, cultural diffusion, and adaptation to different ecological contexts [Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) Cultural Transmission and Evolution: A Quantitative Approach; Boyd and Richerson (1985) Culture and the Evolutionary Process]. The quantitative study of gene-culture coevolution has focused in particular on the mechanisms responsible for change in frequency and attributes of cultural traits, the spread of cultural information through demic and cultural diffusion, and detecting relationships between genetic and cultural lineages. Here, we make use of worldwide whole-genome sequences [Pagani et al. (2016) Nature 538:238-242] to assess the impact of processes involving population movement and replacement on cultural diversity, focusing on the variability observed in folktale traditions (n = 596) [Uther (2004) The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography. Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson] in Eurasia. We find that a model of cultural diffusion predicted by isolation-by-distance alone is not sufficient to explain the observed patterns, especially at small spatial scales (up to [Formula: see text]4,000 km). We also provide an empirical approach to infer presence and impact of ethnolinguistic barriers preventing the unbiased transmission of both genetic and cultural information. After correcting for the effect of ethnolinguistic boundaries, we show that, of the alternative models that we propose, the one entailing cultural diffusion biased by linguistic differences is the most plausible. Additionally, we identify 15 tales that are more likely to be predominantly transmitted through population movement and replacement and locate putative focal areas for a set of tales that are spread worldwide.


Eurasia; cultural diffusion; demic diffusion; folktales; whole-genome sequences

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