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"The genetic evolution of humans in the very recent past might in some ways be linked to the cultural evolution," he said.

Other scientists urge great caution in interpreting the research.

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.

Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

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.

"There's a sense we as humans have kind of peaked," agreed Greg Wray, director of Duke University's Center for Evolutionary Genomics.The conclusion will be controversial, as there is no consensus on where Indo-European languages came from.Some linguists believe that Kurgan horsemen carried them out of central Asia 6,000 years ago.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. So suggests new research that tracked changes in two genes thought to help regulate brain growth, changes that appeared well after the rise of modern humans 200,000 years ago.That the defining feature of humans — our large brains — continued to evolve as recently as 5,800 years ago, and may be doing so today, promises to surprise the average person, if not biologists."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."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.