r/history Nov 25 '22

What is the oldest tribe or clan that has been existing throughout history? And also, the oldest ethnicity? Discussion/Question

By this I dont mean tribes like e.g. Amazonas tribes or Aborigines or Khoisan of Africa. I am also not asking for family lines. Ive heard of Chinese family lines going back to the Zhou dynasty. But I am interested to know of broader groups of an identity that would also manage to keep their language and more or less their culture. The continuation of its location is secondary. Obviously, for this question we can exclude the cultural change (industrialisation and huge advancement of technology etc.) that happened the last centuries.

E.g. the Guran tribe of Kurds goes ultimately back to the Iranic tribe of the Avestan people of ca. 1200 BC and has kept the language (continuously the same) and all the core aspects of culture. Its the oldest continuously living group. Arguably with the Yazidi Kurds and perhaps with the Indo-Aryans too. Since the Egyptians became assimilated to Arabs in language and culture and the Greeks became Christians (change of culture). I am not knowledgeable about the Chinese in this case. Ive only taken some information from Wikipedia. The Han Chinese people are not as old as the Indo-Aryans or as Guran either. Am not sure how the Chinese prior to the Han are connected and/or interrelated with the start of the Chinese from the Han dynasty onward.

Thanks in advance.



u/frenchchevalierblanc Nov 26 '22

Basque people in France and Spain still use a language that " is the last remaining descendant of one of the pre-Indo-European languages of Prehistoric Europe" (wikipedia)


u/Ill_Concentrate2612 Nov 29 '22

Isn't Finnish also related to this?


u/Shredder4life23 Dec 04 '22

No. Finnish is part of the Finno-Urgric branch. Basque is unrelated to any European language.


u/duckywolf191 Nov 26 '22

As has been mentioned, some of the Nation's of Indigenous Australia have continued cultures going back tens of thousands of years. It's harder to determine the exact history of any single Nation's history but there's a few examples.

The Budj-Bim Nation (south western Victoria) created a complex aquaculture system over 6,000 years ago, which remained in continuous use until the 1800s, when it was destroyed to make way for European farms.

The Budj-Bim people have since been able to reclaim the land, rebuild at least some of the aquaculture system and continue to maintain their language, religion, and cultural practices.

They by far are not the oldest continuous culture in Australia, but just one group I'd heard about recently. The greater cultural/language group has been on that part of Australia for something like 50,000 years.


u/sheerwaan Nov 27 '22 edited Dec 26 '22

Ive heard of this before. This is fascinating as astonishing on a whole different level.

The greater cultural/language group has been on that part of Australia for something like 50,000 years.

These are all descended from the group of first homo sapiens that came to Australia? I guess after roaming the continent (and unfortunately exterminating the greater fauna) theyd be able to establish some kind of status quo that worked out very well with no intrusions or invasions from outside

So these indigenous nations are more like ethnicities or more like tribes? Would they live cut off from each other like different nations in Southern America for millenia or how was their (guessed) history? And how common or separate is or are the culture(s) for those nations?


u/duckywolf191 Nov 27 '22

Thanks for your comment. I'd love to be able to answer you in more detail. I, and most Australians, know very little about the first nations of the land. I could probably give you more detailed answers on the politics of Weimar Germany than a general overview of Aboriginal culture.

This reference may give you some enlightenment in the difference between nations, cultures, and language groups.

The first two mins of this might help re language groups.

This is an interesting overview on potential Aboriginal agriculture. The section on the Bogong moth harvest might give some insight into how groups collaborated.


u/Uschnej Nov 26 '22

Those are all social constructs. It's entirely subjective who is included, and as such, when any groups starts or ends.


u/sheerwaan Nov 26 '22

Its not subjective at all. Its got clear features to judge by which all can be scientifically approved of. Linguistics, genetics, historic accounts, anthropology.


u/grekphil Nov 28 '22

It is my understanding that Gurani has undergone significant changes over its history as a result of its proximity to Kurdish proper (as well as other languages, Persian, Balochi,...) to the point now that some speakers of the language consider it to be a dialect of Kurdish. Clearly the language has therefore undergone change, based on linguistic analysis. What makes you think that any group of people, a 'tribe', as you call them, has "kept the language...and all core aspects of the culture"? How would you be able to decide for ancient peoples that they would recognise their distant descendants as part of the same culture?
Firstly, it is impossible to know, as so much of culture is, by definition, intangible, we take histories written by a select few in power and artifacts which are subject to massive amounts of guesswork to fully understand by archaeologists, historians and anthropologists. Secondly, to come in from a foreign culture and decide what does and what doesn't qualify as the same culture (case-in-point, the Christianisation of the Greeks) is almost a case study for culturocentricism.


u/sheerwaan Nov 28 '22 edited Dec 05 '22

What you consider as Gurani is Hawrami. Actual Gurani is part of the same tongue as what is ignorantly called "Kurdish proper". Its because some scholar made a mistake and confusion.

Simply because Gurani, Sorani and Kurmanji as well as Farvi-Khuri and Semnan-Biyabanaki have kept some "Avestanisms" which distinguishes them from any other Western Iranic language even from Hawrami (which you unknowingly call "Gurani"). These tongues also all are linguistically very close to the point where Farvi-Xori and Biyabanaki are as much within "Kurdish" as Gurani and Kurmanji" are). Any further linguistic shift came after that. This is not my own bias, this is clearly evident. Furthermore these tongues are called terms derived from "Gathabara" meaning Hymnbearer which are the hymns, the Avesta, that the early people Zoroastrian people brought to Iran. Note that no other linguistic groups calls itself a derivative of Gathabara and has that meaning of "hymnic" as an endonym for theit tongue. Its basically the people that were with the Magi, the priestly tribe/clan, which were the only ones to "bear the Avestan hymns" and which were said by classical Greco-Roman authors to have been taught by Zoroaster. Not only that, the king that supported Zoroaster was said to be "a very ancient king of Medes" by Greco-Romans all while the Medes are the only that have a tribe among them (Arizanti from Arya Zantu "Aryan tribe") that fits to the way the Avestans viewed themselves (which is literally an "Aryan tribe") which alluded to that group of Avestans that came to Media and settled (which the Magi were part of).

Languages change, but the continuity is given. This Avestan origin only is true for Gurani, Sorani, Kurmanji, Farvi-Xori and Biyabanaki. Not for Gilaki, persian or tatic, etc..

There is a tribe among the Guran who do have the origin history of being the people entrusted the Avestan songs by Zoroaster himself and they are called "Zand" which literally means "exegesis" even back in Avestan (Zainti-). They have this story while having been surrounded and in contact by muslims ans muslim dynasties in a muslim world. All others would make up origins from muslim rulers. Not they, for obviously it wasnt made up but perfectly fits to them being called Zand and being Guran (Gathabara) and speaking the tongue that shares most linguistic features with Avestan from any Iranic tongue plus being from the people that the Magi were from (Medes).

You can look at historic accounts and try to find the Avestans in Central Asia, but you wont find them, only Scythian groups. Thats because there was a Climate catastrophy on the steppe and at that very time the Scythian nomads would spread and replace people. Fast forward you have the hereditary priest group and people that Zoroaster taught in a region where the people literally call themselves "Gathabara" and are linguistically the closest exactly from a time onward where Iranic presence in Media and especially Kurdish regions on the Zagrus rises very high (in Assyrian and Babylonian sources) and where they also bear actual Zoroastrian-derived names (Bagafarna) and terms (assara mazash = Ahura Mazda).

Pretty obvious if you ask me.


u/War_Hymn Nov 26 '22

Given their isolation and hints that they might be descended from the earliest wave of homo sapien out of Africa, I will say the Sentinelese.


u/sheerwaan Nov 26 '22

Thats the kind of tribe I wasnt looking for. The problem here is the English semantic twist of "tribe"


u/Lothronion Nov 26 '22

the Greeks became Christians (change of culture).

This is not a change of culture, but a change of religion.


u/sheerwaan Nov 26 '22

You can consider that included in what I am asking for. Religion is very much culture after all. The Greeks do not follow any of their ancient Greek values and believes but those of a Jewish reformer from Israel. Thats not Greek "culture". If you know a better word, you are welcome to tell me.


u/Alternative_Demand96 Nov 26 '22

The Greeks decide themselves what Greek is , Christianity became a part of Greek culture in the same way it became a part of Roman culture


u/sheerwaan Nov 26 '22

Well, this is not how things work. And neither you nor the Greeks can change what "continuity" and "passing on" means. The Greeks would change their culture the moment they converted to Christianity. Their culture would become different to their Greek culture from a decade earlier than that. Thats a cut, meaning continuity was broken, and thats what is relevant to my specific question.


u/Lothronion Nov 26 '22 edited Nov 26 '22

The Christianization of the Greeks is not a spontaneous event, it is a transition that lasted for basically 6 centuries, from the teachings of the Apostle Paul to the last examples of Polytheists mentioned in the Eastern Roman Empire (the one in the 10th century AD by the Roman Emperor Constantine Porphyroghenetos is a mistake, he confused the nationaly Hellenes Mainotes with the religiously Hellenes Melingoi Slavs).

With that in mind, it is important to also remind how Greek Polytheism was not something static. In the 7th century BC, during the time of Solon, you would find Athena being worshiped in Athens, but 6 centuries before that, in the 13th century BC, you would find Potnia instead (which became Potnia of Athens, and from there formed Athena).


u/sheerwaan Nov 26 '22

Thats comprehensive, thanks. Of course I am not excluding cultural heritance based on the strictness of "having the same verses and instructions" or smth. I dont do that for Guran or Hinduistic Indo-Aryans either. Hinduims is (largely?) Vedic-derived and that suffices since tongue and ethnic identity as even ethnic continuity is given. And the Guran are not Zoroastrians either. But we do have the very same core values as our ancestors established and rooting from exactly what was established with Zoroaster among them millenia earlier. So the issue I have with Greeks here is that they are Christians and this comes from a different people and a different area and a different cultural sphere all while the Greeks were already existing as such. Aside of that I consider the Greeks the same as the Guran and the Hindu Indo-Aryans.


u/MassErect69 Nov 26 '22

I think to prevent further confusion, it would be good to rephrase your question to something like “What is the oldest culture in existence that has remained largely unchanged since it originated?”

But this is a really difficult question. Most cultures, especially in the modern age, end up adopting aspects of other cultures that they enjoy


u/Lothronion Nov 26 '22

“What is the oldest culture in existence that has remained largely unchanged since it originated?”

Then the answer would be the Indigenous Australians.

Their oral stories, the Dreamtime, speaks of prehistoric fauna, now extinct!


u/Schertzhusker117 Nov 26 '22

I mean if you’re looking for the complete authoritarian right wing that was the European way for so long I’m sure there are Windsor monarchists that want the Magna Carta revisited. What your asking for is so arbitrary that you need to revisit your question with more qualifiers of what truly is a culture. If you don’t take Greek as a definitive culture because modern Greeks are not traditional polytheists. Then you’re splitting hairs to a point that is undefinable. Best bet is governments at that point where the Magna Carta could be the most contiguous at this point, event if the philosophy of the country has changed more substantially since then (including a religious change).


u/GSilky Nov 27 '22

I was going to say kurds. Jews also have a very long history. The Egyptians do too, still using shadufs in the early twentieth century (probably still today).