The research team from an international team led by McMaster University psychologist Steven Brown has established for the first time 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 in a manner that can be compared to the way they read changes in human DNA and language.
Brown, an associate professor of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, asid that music is an untapped migrational marker that can be used to help people understand the history of human populations.
Brown's research 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 that makes it ideal for such comparisons.
The group included researchers from Tokyo University of the Arts, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany and China Medical University and Mackay Memorial Hospital, both in Taiwan.
The researchers analyzed the structures of 220 Taiwanese choral songs recorded since the 1940s. They compared the results with DNA samples taken from 1,050 subjects from different parts of the island and found that the musical results shared significant similarities to the genetic results when it came to tracking changes over thousands of years.
Their study has been published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.