Dating man different culture
"A different way to look at is it's almost impossible for evolution not to happen." Still, the findings also are controversial, because it's far from clear what effect the genetic changes had or if they arose when Lahn's "molecular clock" suggests — at roughly the same time period as some cultural achievements, including written language and the development of cities.
Lahn and colleagues examined two genes, named microcephalin and ASPM, that are connected to brain size.
Spanish and Portuguese come out as sisters, for example - both are cousins to German, and Hindi is a more distant relation to all three.
All other Indo-European languages split off from Hittite, the oldest recorded member of the group, between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago, the pair calculates.
"No matter how we [changed] the analysis or assumptions, we couldn't get a date of around 6,000 years," says Gray.
"This kind of study is exactly what linguistics needs," says April Mc Mahon, who studies the history of languages at the University of Sheffield, UK.
Russell Gray and Quentin Atkinson, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand use the rate at which words change to gauge the age of the tree's roots - just as biologists estimate a species' age from the rate of gene mutations.
The differences between words, or DNA sequences, are a measure of how closely languages, or species, are related.
Lahn offers an analogy: Medieval monks would copy manuscripts and each copy would inevitably contain errors — accidental mutations.
That does not mean one population is smarter than another, Lahn and other scientists stressed, noting that numerous other genes are key to brain development.