Traditional societies are often organized into descent groups called "lineages," "clans," and "tribes." Each of these descent groups claims to have a common ancestor, and this ancestry distinguishes the group's members from the rest of the population. To test the hypothesis of common ancestry within these groups, we compared ethnological and genetic data from five Central Asian populations. We show that, although people from the same lineage and clan share generally a recent common ancestor, no such common ancestry is observed at the tribal level. Thus, a tribe might be a conglomerate of clans who subsequently invented a mythical ancestor to strengthen group unity.
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