Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Dogons secret

The Dogons are an African population originally from Mali that caught the attention of the international scientific community when last century two anthropologists, Griale and Dieterlen argued that this population possessed some knowledge of the Sirius star system that could not be obtained other than through the use of modern telescopes, which of course the Dogons did not have.

According to them, the Dogons were aware of the existence of Sirius B, a white dwarf orbiting Sirius discovered in 1862.

Griale and Dieterlen argued that the Dogon even knew the period of Sirius B’s revolution around Sirius, as was shown by the ceremonies they held every 50 years in honor of the star.

The two anthropologists did not make any assumptions about how the Dogons might have come to know these notions.

Other "scholars", headed by Robert Temple, assumed instead that the Dogons had become aware of Sirius B since hundreds of years earlier they had come into contact with some alien beings from that system. There is no need to emphasize the absurdity of this assumption.

No matter how far it was in the air and without a shred of evidence, Temple’s hypothesis brought to the fore the question of the Dogons. Some scientific research aimed to explain how this population was aware of the existence of the star.

Some anthropologists settled for several years among the Dogons, studying their traditions and knowledge. None of these found the aspects that had led Griale and Dieterlen to believe that the Dogon knew of the existence of Sirius B. It was in fact shown that in the Dogon Sirius culture was only marginal and there was no trace of the ceremonies with period 50 years mentioned above. None of the Dogons had any idea what a double star or white dwarf was.

The Dogons are not a people that tends to isolate themselves, but in fact in the course of its history it has often had interactions with western visitors. Going back to the journeys that Westerners have made through the lands inhabited by the Dogons, it was realized that in 1893 (when Sirius B had already been discovered) a group of astronomers were in Mali to witness an eclipse of the Sun. Also in Mali since the early 1900s there were some French schools and several missionaries.

It cannot therefore be excluded that some Dogons have come into contact with these Western groups, from which they could have learned astronomical notions or curiosities, including the existence of Sirius B. Research conducted by Griaule and Dieterlen therefore led to the erroneous belief that such partial astronomical knowledge was rooted in the Dogon culture, when in truth they had only recently been learned from meetings with western visitors.

Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble.

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