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"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.

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"There's a sense we as humans have kind of peaked," agreed Greg Wray, director of Duke University's Center for Evolutionary Genomics.Words are better understood than grammar as a guide to language history; the same sentence structure can arise independently in different tongues.The resulting tree matches many existing ideas about language development.For the microcephalin gene, the variation arose about 37,000 years ago, about the time period when art, music and tool-making were emerging, Lahn said.For ASPM, the variation arose about 5,800 years ago, roughly correlating with the development of written language, spread of agriculture and development of cities, he said.Years later, a ruler declares one of those copies the definitive manuscript, and a rush is on to make many copies of that version — so whatever changes from the original are in this presumed important copy become widely disseminated.

Scientists attempt to date genetic changes by tracing back to such spread, using a statistical model that assumes genes have a certain mutation rate over time.

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.

Around this time, farming techniques began to spread out of Anatolia - now Turkey - across Europe and Asia, archaeological evidence shows.

The farmers themselves may have moved, or natives may have adopted words along with agricultural technology.

That the genetic changes have anything to do with brain size or intelligence "is totally unproven and potentially dangerous territory to get into with such sketchy data," stressed Dr.