What is the oldest myth or legend which is known to mankind?

It's rather simple to determine the age of physical objects, be that pieces of everyday objects, but also written documents. These latter give us to some degree a view into the thoughts or beliefs of the people from the past (like the bible, like the Qumran Caves Scrolls, like the Kish Tablet), carbon-dating allows determining the age.

This is more difficult with spoken language. If they describe an event or a happening it can only be attributed to a certain time, when the event is detectable or known to have happened (like something geological, a big flood, an earthquake, use of lands now submerged, must have happened before a volcano errupted etc.). Within these limits that the myth can somewhat be time-attributed, what is the oldest myth or legend mankind knows?

(I'm aware of this old, but unanswered question. I believe this is similar difficult but not identical and can have an answer)

  • 1
    Your title says 'provable myth or legend'. If anything can be proved, it isn't a myth or legend, it is history.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 17:48
  • @Chenmunka - I think OP is asking for the oldest myth that we can securely date. Meaning, we can easily date written myths to the oldest surviving example or reference. But are there oral traditions that we can date (with some level of confidence) to pre-written-history?
    – codeMonkey
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 16:52

1 Answer 1


Probably the End of the Ice Age

The most reasonable way to date stories that are older than writing is to find descriptions of geological events that we can confirm with modern geographic science.

The best of these are probably sea level rise, which I know has some documentation in the case of the Australian Aborigines having stories from ~5,000 BC.

Similarly, volcanic eruptions can be dated, and there are stories from Native Americans about tsunamis, landslides, and eruptions that are pre-Western contact and supported by modern investigations.

Also, Linguistics

Proto-Indo-European (PIE) stories can be traced back to their origin, because we can find common stories in cultures that we know have a linguistic common heritage, and draw from that that the common stories descended from older stories in the parent culture.

This means that myths about the Dawn Goddess, Lame Smith, and Sky Father probably trace back to ~3,500 BC.

Putting the Two Together

My favorite unproven folklore theory is that the flood narrative is a PIE myth relating to an outburst flood at the end of the ice age. If an outburst flood similar to the Missoula floods occurred in North East Europe around the same time as the North American counterpart, it would have flooded the Caspian basin and could have served as the source of the Flood narrative.

This, if true, would date the flood narrative to ~11,000 BC.

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