Updated: Jan 19
The Dogon tribespeople of Mali had an understanding of the Sirius star system long before anyone would have expected, they claim they received the knowledge from people from the sky.
Believers of the ancient alien's theory and skeptics have clashed for decades over the topic of the Dogon people and their advanced astronomical knowledge.
This story is aimed at looking at both sides of the argument that concerns this ancient tribe from Mali, Africa, and their reported knowledge of the motions of a star that is not visible from Earth without the use of modern telescopes.
What Did The Dogon People Know?
Sirius is the brightest star in the sky and has always held a prominent position in many ancient cultures. It is approximately 8.7 light-years from Earth, it also has a white dwarf star, Sirius B.
Sirius B cannot be seen with the naked eye, and it wasn't until 1830 that astronomers first believed in its existence. They mathematically developed a theoretical model of its orbit around Sirius (which is now known as Sirius A) later in the 19th century.
Astronomers of the day knew that Sirius B must be made out of a super-dense matter, but the specific details were well beyond their understanding until 1926 when quantum physics helped explain it. Irregularities in the movement of Sirius B led astronomers to consider a potential third star, it was believed that Sirius C, may exist and exert an influence over the orbit of Sirius B, even today the existence of Sirius C is still a reason for debate.
It is believed that the Dogon had known all of this for centuries, well before Western astronomers even began to contemplate it. For them, Sirius Is a three-star system. They allegedly accurately described Sirius B: they say it is a companion star for Sirius that is invisible from Earth, that it has a 50-year orbital period, that it is made from a heavy substance that is not found on Earth, and it travels around Sirius A along an elliptical path.
It is also said that the Dogon understood that the Earth, as well as other planets, rotate on their axes, that they orbit the sun, that Saturn has a ring around it, and that Jupiter has four moons.
An article that was published by NASA's Chandra observatory said: "Carl Sagan commented in his book, ‘Broca’s Brain,’ the conclusion about planetary orbits, though a rare insight, is one that can be achieved without high technology, as demonstrated by some Greeks and Copernicus. As for the moons of Jupiter, and Saturn’s ring, with a combination of extraordinary eyesight and perfectly clear skies, it just might be possible to see them without a telescope."
Did The Dogon Tribe See Sirius B Themselves?
The one thing that the ancient alien believers and the skeptics appear to agree on is that the Dogon people couldn't have observed Sirius B or its orbit around Sirius A with their own eyes.
According to Liam McDaid, who is a professor at Sacramento City College as well as a senior scientist for The Skeptic Society, the only way Sirius B would have been visible to the Dogon (or any other cultures) is if it were a red giant several thousand years ago. If this happened to be the case, then anyone could have easily observed both Sirius A and Sirius B in action, some do say the ancients did describe Sirius as a red giant.
But, McDaid did detail in an article written for the society: "One problem with this idea is that Sirius B has been a white dwarf for at least tens of thousands of years. If Sirius B had been a red giant only a few thousand years ago, there would still be a bright and noticeable planetary nebula around it today. No such nebula is seen."
"The second problem is that ancient writers seemed to use colour for stars in a way different from the way that we do (they described Pollux, Arcturus, and Capella as ‘red’—a modern observer would call them yellow-orange, orange, and yellow, respectively). And finally, even if Sirius B had been a visible red giant a few thousand years ago, how would the Dogon know that Sirius B was still there after it became a white dwarf?"
McDaid concluded, as did famed astronomer Carl Sagan, that the Dogon people's knowledge of Sirius B could only have come from some advanced culture. McDaid and Sagan both said that this must have come from modern Western culture, many others within the profession say that this is highly unlikely.
Did The Knowledge Come From Western Contact?
The theory that the Dogon possessed this advanced knowledge of Sirius B is based on the anthropological accounts of Dr. Germaine Dieterlen, the Secretary-General of the Société des Africainistes at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, and Dr. Marcel Griaule who visited the tribe together in the 1930s.
Robert Temple’s book “The Sirius Mystery,” published in 1976, popularised the ancient aliens theory as an explanation of the Dogon’s knowledge. He refuted the arguments given by Sagan for why the Dogon may have gained the astronomical knowledge through contact with the Western world.
In an open letter written to Carl Sagan in 1981, Robert Temple said: "As [Dr. Dieterlen] has spent most of her life living with the Dogon and knows them and their traditions more intimately than anyone else alive, her opinion on a possible Western origin for the Sirius traditions of the Dogon is of the highest importance. She answers such suggestions with a single word: ‘Absurd!"
During an interview for a BBC program, she had shown a 400-year-old Dogon artifact representing the three stars of the Sirius system. This part was edited out of the American broadcast, Temple said, which may be why American skeptics have overlooked this evidence and Dieterlen’s testimony.
In a somewhat bizarre interview on the show "Talk Psychic," Temple said: "If you ask the Dogon, they will tell you, and that’s what nobody else wants to hear. They say that their ancestors were given the information from visitors from the system of the star Sirius."
Temple has said that the knowledge of the Sirius system is pervasive in Dogon Culture, "embodied in … hundreds or thousands of objects, symbols, woven blankets, carved statues, et cetera."
He believes that it is completely impossible for the knowledge to have seeped into their culture so rapidly from when the Western astronomers made these discoveries to the time Dieterlen and Griaule started their research back in 1931.
"And how these hundreds or thousands of objects are meant to have been expertly fabricated fakes purporting to be centuries old … baffles me even more," he continued. "It is considerations like these and many more (such as the tribal sacredness of the tradition making it unlikely that it could have come from Western intruders who would not have been highly regarded or in the confidence of the meticulous and traditional priests) which lead Dr. Dieterlen to reject the suggestion of Western origins as ‘absurd.'"
In 1979-1980, anthropologist Walter van Beek carried out in-depth studies on the Dogon people. He reported that their cosmology was much different than that reported by Dieterlen and Griaule. Van Beek explained that the Dogon understanding of the Sirius system was not unified nor clear.
Over the years, Griaule has been criticised for putting forward leading questions as well as planting the astronomical knowledge in the Dogon people. Genevieve Calame-Griaule, the daughter of Dr Marcel Griaule has also criticised the methods of van Beek. It is still unclear as to whether changes in the Dogon since the 1930s may account for van Beek's findings.
Until the 19th century, the Dogon's didn't come into contact with anyone from Western society who would have known of the astronomer's discoveries, but some interaction did happen, so the possibility that they acquired the information this way is not impossible, however unlikely it may be.
The fact still remains that it would appear from the point of view of anyone other than a skeptic that the Dogon people did in fact receive information from an advanced civilisation about the Sirius star system.
Let us know your opinions on the Dogon people and their knowledge of the Sirius star system in the comments below.