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Where Is the Origin of Little Red Riding Hood?

Kgulok9zGbc3aL4pHkcjTqsBAasN2omSuRDmWIrZ7fVKAQAA6wAAAEpQ_260x196Long, long ago, maybe 2,000 years ago, there was a little girl who often wore a riding hood given by her grandmother as a birthday gift. And then what? The ending depends on where you hear the story. In some European versions, Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t have a happy ending while in some of them, Little Red Riding Hood finally got away from wolf’s claws; in other places, the story told it was sheep eaten by the wolf but not Little Red Riding Hood.

Are these different versions come from the same one? Or parents from all over the world individually came up similar stories to scare their children before sleeping? Using research method of genetic relationship, scientist might be able to figure out the answer.

Which version did you hear?

The most popular version of the fairy tale is the Big Bad Wolf ate the grandmother and disguised as her, waiting in the bed for Little Red Riding Hood. The most intense moments of the story is when Little Red Riding Hood was asking: “Goodness, what big eyes you have!” (“The better to greet you with”) “What a big mouth you have!” (“The better to hug/grab you with”) Eventually, Little Red Riding Hood was eaten by the Big Bad Wolf. However, if you grow up in the Middle East, your version may be “Big Wild Wolf and Child Sheep”, in which, the wolf didn’t act as the grandmother, instead, it disguised as a mother sheep and ate the child sheep. Is this version the original one?

Jamie Tehrani, a British anthropologist, has heard many versions of Little Red Riding Hood because his father is an Iranian, his mother a British while he grew up in Dubai. For recent two centuries, anthropologists have been trying to date back the origin of Little Red Riding Hood. Currently, the mainstream theory believes that Little Red Riding Hood came from China and reached Europe through The Silk Road about 600-800 year ago. And there is another theory that Little Red Riding Hood was appeared individually in a short time period all over the world and all versions are surprisingly similar simply because generally all places had wild animals and vulnerable children.

Draw a phylogenetic tree to find out where is Little Red Riding Hood.

Little Red Riding Hood stories in historical records were all different, but anthropologists have collected many story versions from various eras and these data become important materials for Tehrani’s genetic relationship research. Genetic relationship analysis is initially used in building genetic relationships for different creatures and speculate their own evolution histories. Tehrani analyzed 59 versions of Little Red Riding Hood and drew a phylogenetic tree. If the story truly originated from China, then the Chinese version must locate at the bottom of the tree and other versions should branch from the tree trunk.

However, the phylogenetic tree doesn’t support the statement of “China is the origin of Little Red Riding Hood.” It seems more like the story was initiated between Europe and Middle East 2,000 year ago. The Chinese version is a variant of the European version but not the origin of all versions; the African version appears to be introduced from Middle East and modified based on that version. ”Big Wild Wolf and Sheep Child” came out even earlier than Little Red Riding Hood, but since Brothers Grimm published their folktale 200 years ago, the European version becomes the one we often hear.

Robert Ross, an anthropologist who works on origins of legends, believes that this is an important discovery, however, he also points out:” I’m worrying that if more versions of Little Red Riding Hood are brought into analysis, will we still get a similar phylogenetic tree?” He notes this because he noticed that among the versions selected by Tehrani, only one thirds of them are categorized as traditional Little Red Riding Hood in academic world, however, not all of the versions have to have a relationship between one another.


  1. The Evolution of Little Red Riding Hood. ScienceNow [14 November 2013]
  2. Tehrani JJ (2013) The Phylogeny of Little Red Riding Hood. PLoS ONE 8(11): e78871. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078871