Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Mystery of the Dogon

Full moon emerging from clouds (Sam Mugraby/

Last month two Suns were filmed at sunset from various parts of the world. Today there was a full lunar eclipse. All this got us to thinking about the amazing Dogon of Africa, who long ago claimed there was a "Dog Star" behind the Sun. It is only visible (with telescopes) every fifty years according to their ancient astronomy. They also knew a great deal about this solar system. The source of their information? Strange beings (amphibian Nommos, hermaphrodite mermaids) who came from their and left behind this legacy.

In Mali, West Africa, lives a tribe of people called the Dogon. The Dogon are believed to be of Egyptian descent. But their astronomical lore goes back thousands of years to 3200 BC. According to their traditions, the star Sirius has a companion star, one invisible to the human eye. This companion star has a 50 year elliptical orbit around the visible Sirius and is extremely heavy. It also rotates on its axis.

This legend might be of little interest to anybody but the two French anthropologists, Marcel Griaule and Germain Dieterlen, who recorded it from four Dogon priests in the 1930's. It would be of little interest except that it is exactly correct.

How did a people, who lacked any kind of astronomical devices, know so much about an invisible star? The star, which scientists now call Sirius B, was not photographed until a large telescope was devised and finally used in 1970.

The Dogon stories explain that according to their oral traditions, a race of "people" from the Sirius system called the Nommos visited Earth thousands of years ago. The Nommos were ugly, amphibious beings resembling mermen and mermaids.

They also appear in Babylonian, Accadian, and Sumerian myths. The Egyptian Goddess Isis, who is sometimes depicted as a mermaid, is also linked with the star Sirius.

According to the Dogon legend, the Nommos lived on a planet that orbits another star in the Sirius system. They landed on Earth in an "ark" [spacecraft] that made a spinning descent to the ground with great noise and wind. The Nommos gave the Dogon their knowledge about Sirius B.

Moreover, according to legend, the Nommos furnished the Dogon with very interesting information about our own solar system:
  • The planet Jupiter has four major moons
  • Saturn has rings
  • The planets orbit the Sun.
These are all facts only discovered by Westerners after Galileo invented the telescope.

The story of the Dogon and their legend was first brought to popular attention by Robert K.G. Temple in his 1977 book The Sirius Mystery. Science writer Ian Ridpath and astronomer Carl Sagan replied to Temple's book, suggesting that this modern knowledge about Sirius must have come from Westerners... [because, of course, an African hunter-gatherer tribe who speak a languages distinct from everyone around them could not possibly be reporting their lore accurately].
But it does not explain a 400 year old Dogon artifact that apparently depicts the Sirius configuration nor the ceremonies held by the Dogon since the 13th century to celebrate the cycle of Sirius A and B. Nor does it explain how the Dogon knew about the super-density of Sirius B, a fact only discovered a few years before anthropologists recorded the Dogon stories.

But it is also important to remember that although many parts of Dogon legend ring true, other portions seem mistaken [from the point of view of our current understanding]. One Dogon belief is that Sirius B occupied the place where our Sun is now. Our understanding of physics prohibits this. And if the Dogon believe that Sirius B orbits Sirius A every 50 years, why do they hold their celebrations every 60 years? [Never mind that few who begin the massive preparations will live to see those celebrations.]

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