Scientist Traces Little Red Riding Hood's Origin

December 8, 2013

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. anthropologist [an-thruh-POL-uh-jist] (n.) –  a person who studies human races, their origins, and their cultures
Example:  Many anthropologists believe in the theory that humans evolved from apes and monkeys.

2. folktale [FOHK-teyl] (n.) – a traditional story often considered as an important part of a culture
Example: When we were young, our grandmother often told folktales during bedtime.

3. disguise [dis-GAHYZ] (v.) – to change one’s appearance to hide one’s true identity
Example: The princess disguised herself as a beggar in order to hide from her father, the king.

4. ancestor [AN-ses-ter] (n.) – someone or something in the past from which something else has developed
Example: According to Darwin’s theory of evolution, apes are the ancestors of humans. 

5. vice versa [VAHY-suh VUR-suh] (adv.) – in reversed order
Example:  Humans eventually realized that the Earth goes around the sun, and not vice versa.


Read the text below.

An anthropologist has recently traced the origins of the folktale “Little Red Riding Hood.”

In a study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, anthropologist Jamie Tehrani of Durham University detailed the evolutionary tree of the popular story. Little Red Riding Hood is about a girl who got eaten by a wolf disguised as her grandmother.

Tehrani used a mathematical method called phylogenetics [fahy-luh-juh-NET-iks] in his study. Phylogenetics is a method commonly used by biologists to study the evolution of species. It reconstructs history by looking at what features have been preserved through inheritance.

According to phylogenetics, the descendants of a species will resemble their ancestors in certain ways. This means that a species can be traced back to its ancestor by following the trail of inherited characteristics.

Based on these principles, Tehrani found that Little Red Riding Hood has a lot in common with another popular folktale from the first century called “The Wolf and the Kids.” That folktale is about a wolf that impersonates a mother goat and eats her kids. “Little Red Riding Hood” came 1,000 years after the said folktale.

Tehrani also found that many versions of the story are told in Asia and Africa, including “The Tiger Grandmother,’ a version popular in Japan, Korea, and China.

The research also addressed the popular notion that Little Red Riding Hood originated in China. According to Tehrani, his findings indicated that this claim is not true. Based on his data, the Chinese version was actually derived from European stories, and not vice versa.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         What do you think is the importance of knowing the origin of popular stories like Little Red Riding Hood?
·         Do you think that folktales are an important part of a culture and therefore should be preserved? Why or why not?

Discussion B

·         What do you think makes a story good and exciting? Tell your tutor about it.
·         In your opinion, what is the best way of telling a story? Explain.


December 8, 2013