When you think about the best tools that we have available for understanding the origins of civilization, you might imagine a pickaxe, a dusting brush, a shove–no doubt all of them wielded by some Indiana Jones-esque adventurer standing chest-deep in the bowels of some excavated lost city.

The problem with these methods is that they involve a painstakingly detailed approach to understanding history, picking through evidence one piece at a time. While this can be an incredibly useful way to understand the world, it isn’t the only method for building our knowledge of the past.  An increasingly popular approach takes the opposite approach: leveraging large amounts of information at the same time in order to discover hidden complexities and patterns that aren’t available to the human eye.

In a paper published this week out of UC Berkeley, a team of researchers has leveraged the raw power of modern-era computers in order to understand the complicated process by which ancient languages morph into their present-day forms.  The the evolution of language is an incredibly complicated process, it also has a lot of structure.  This structure tends to be relatively consistent over time, with small changes being enacted across epochs of civilization.