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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.

Aside from not knowing what the gene variants actually do, no one knows how precise the model Lahn used to date them is, Collins added.

Lahn's own calculations acknowledge that the microcephalin variant could have arisen anywhere from 14,000 to 60,000 years ago, and that the uncertainty about the ASPM variant ranged from 500 to 14,000 years ago.

"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.

Gray and Atkinson analysed 87 languages from Irish to Afghan.

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