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25 November 2013
Ancient human history encoded in music

An international team led by McMaster University psychologist Steven Brown has established that the history of human populations is embedded in music, where complex combinations of rhythm, pitch and arrangement form a code that scientists can read. "Music is an untapped migrational marker that can be used to help people understand the history of human populations," says Brown.
     Brown's team used a comparison between the mitochondrial DNA and the folk music of nine indigenous populations of Taiwan to show that each tells a similar story about the ways those populations have changed and converged over the last 6,000 years. Mitochondrial DNA changes at a predictable rate, acting as an evolutionary clock ideal for such comparisons.
     "Languages and genes change slowly over time, but music can change much more quickly," Brown says. "I think people thought that music was too transient to carry evidence of what happened thousands of years ago. Our results support the idea that music actually has elements in it that are ancient. In addition to being able to evolve quickly, it can also retain traces of ancient population movements."

Edited from ScienceDaily (19 November 2013)

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