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The famous 19th-century fairy tale collector Wilhelm Grimm suggested fairy tales dated back thousands of years. Scientists now support his theory and claim that many of the fairy tales we know and love could be over 4,000 years old. Anthropologist Jamshid Tehrani and folklorist Sara da Silva say the oldest known fairy tale dates back over 6,000 years to the Bronze Age. This is a time between the Stone Age and Iron Age when humans first started making tools from metal. Dr Tehrani studied the evolution of our early languages. He found strong links between a tale called "The Smith and the Devil" and the Proto-Indo-European language - an ancient common language that dates to around 6,000 years ago.

The two scientists analysed 275 tales for elements of culture that existed before modern languages like English, French and Italian. They say well-known tales like "Beauty and the Beast" and "Rumplestiltskin" are at least 4,000 years old. Dr Tehrani said: "It's remarkable that these stories have survived so long without being written down. They are older than the English language and would have been first told in a language that is now extinct." Many of the fairy tales we know today were first written down in the 17th century. Dr Tehrani says the new findings suggest that: "A substantial number of magical tales have existed in Indo-European oral traditions long before they were written down."

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