MEMORIES OF A DISTANT STAR?
THE DOGON PEOPLE OF WEST AFRICA HAVE A DETAILED KNOWLEDGE OF THE UNIVERSE THAT IS ASTONISHINGLY ACCURATE. WAS IT, AS THEY CLAIM, PASSED ON BY ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS?
Like many African tribes, the Dogon people of the Republic of Mali have a shadowed past. They settled on the Bandiagara Plateau, where they now live, some time between the 13th and 16th centuries. For most of the year, their homeland - 300 miles (500 km) south of Timbuktu - is a desolate, arid, rocky terrain of cliffs and gorges, dotted with small villages built from mud and straw.
Although most anthropologists would class them as 'primitive', the two million people who make up the Dogon and surrounding tribes would not agree with this epithet. Nor do they deserve it, except in the sense that their way of life has changed little over the centuries. Indifferent though they are to Western technology, their philosophy and religion is both rich and complex. Outsiders who have lived with them, and learned to accept the simplicity of their lives, speak of them as a happy, fulfilled people whose attitude to the essential values of life dates back millennia.
VISITORS FROM SIRIUS
The Dogon do, however, make one astounding claim; that they were originally taught and 'civilised' by creatures from outer space - specifically, from the star system Sirius, 8.7 light years away. And they back up this claim with what seems to be extraordinarily detailed knowledge of astronomy for such a 'primitive' and isolated tribe. Notably, they know that Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, has a companion star, invisible to the naked eye, which is small, dense, and extremely heavy. This is perfectly accurate. But its existence was not even suspected by Western astronomers until the middle of the 19th century; and it was not described in detail until the 1920s, nor photographed (so dim is this star, known as Sirius B) until 1970.
This curious astronomical fact forms the central tenet of Dogon mythology. It is enshrined in their most secret rituals. portrayed in sand drawings, built into their sacred architecture, and can be seen in carvings and patterns woven into their blankets - designs almost certainly dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years.
All in all, this has been held as the most persuasive evidence yet that Earth had, in its fairly recent past, an interplanetary connection - a close encounter of the educational kind, one might say. The extent of Dogon knowledge has also been subjected to scrutiny, in order to establish whether all that they say is true, or whether their information may have come from an Earthbound source - a passing missionary, say.
So, how did we in the West come to know of the Dogon beliefs? There is just one basic source, fortunately very thorough. In 1931, two of France's most respected anthropologists, Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen decided to make the Dogon the subject of extended study. For the next 21 years, they lived almost constantly with the tribe; and , in 1946, Griaule was invited by the Dogon priests to share their innermost sacred secrets. He attended their rituals and their ceremonies, and learned - so far as it was possible for any Westerner to do - the enormously complex symbolism that stems from their central belief in amphibious creatures, which they called Nommo, and that came from outer space to civilise the world. (Griaule himself came to be revered by the Dogon as much as their priests, to such an extent that at his funeral in Mali in 1956, a quarter of a million tribesmen gathered to pay him homage.)
The findings of the two anthropologists were first published in 1950, in a cautious and scholarly paper entitled 'A Sudanese Sirius System' in the Journal de la Societe des Africainistes. After Griaule's death, Germaine Dieterlen remained in Paris, where she was appointed Secretary General of the Societe des Africainistes at the Musee de l'Homme. She wrote up their joint studies in a massive volume intitled Le Renard Pele, the first of a planned series, published in 1965, by the French National Institute of Ethnology.
* SLMR 2.1a * When childhood dies, the corpse is called an adult.
The two works make it overwhelmingly clear that the Dogon belief system is indeed based on a surprisingly accurate knowledge of astronomy, mingled with a form of astrology. Lying at the heart of it is Sirius, and the various stars and planets that they believe orbit around this star. They also say that its main companion star, which they call 'po tolo', is made of matter heavier than anything on Earth, and moves in a 50-year elliptical orbit.
All these things are true. But Western astronomers only deduced that something curious was happening around Sirius about 150 years ago. They had noted certain irregularities in its motion, and they could explain this only by postulating the existence of another star close to it, which was disturbing Sirius' movements through the force of gravity. In 1862, the American astronomer Alvan Graham Clark actually spotted the star when testing a new telescope, and called it Sirius B.
However, it was to take another half-century from the first observation of Sirius' peculiarities for a mathematical and physical explanation to be found for such a small object exerting such massive force. Sir Arthur Eddington, in the 1920s formulated the theory of certain stars being 'white dwarfs' - stars near the end of their life that have collapsed in on themselves and become superdense.
A BAFFLING PROBLEM
The description fitted the Dogon version precisely. But how could they have learned about it in the three years between Eddington's announcement of the theory in a popular book in 1928, and the arrival of Griaule and Dieterlen in 1931? The two anthropologists were baffled. 'The problem of knowing how, with no instruments at their disposal, men could know of the movements and certain characteristics of virtually invisible stars has not been settled', they wrote.
At this point, another researcher entered the scene - Robert Temple, and American scholar of Sanskrit and Oriental Studies living Europe - who became deeply fascinated by two questions raised.
Firstly, was the evidence of the Dogon understanding of astronomy to be believed? And secondly, if the answer to the first question was positive, how could they conceivably have come by this knowledge?
A careful reading of the source material, and discussions with Germaine Dieterlen in Paris, convinced him after a time that the Dogon were indeed the possessors of an ancient wisdom that concerned not just Sirius B, but the solar system in general. They said the Moon was 'dry and dead like dry dead blood'. Their drawing of the planet Saturn had a ring around it. (Two other exceptional cases of primitive tribes privy to this information are known.) They knew that planets revolved round the sun, and recorded the movements of Venus in their sacred architecture. They knew of the four 'major moons' of Jupiter, first seen by Galileo. (There are now known to be at least 14.) They knew correctly that the Earth spins on its axis. And they believed there was an infinite number of stars, and that there was a spiral force involved in the Milky Way, to which Earth was connected.
Much of this came down in Dogon myth and symbolism. Objects on Earth were said to represent what went on in the skies, but the concept of 'twinning' made many of the calculations obscure, so that it could not be said that the evidence was totally unambiguous. But with Sirius B, in particular, the central facts seemed unarguable. Indeed, the Dogon deliberately chose the smallest yet most significant object they could find - a grain of their essential food crop - to symbolise Sirius B. (Po tolo means, literally, a star made of fonio seed.) They also stretched their imaginations to describe how massively heavy its mineral content was: 'All earthly beings combined cannot lift it.'
Temple found their sand drawings particularly compelling. The egg-shaped ellipse might perhaps be explained away as representing the 'egg of life', or some such symbolic meaning. But the Dogon were insistent that it meant an orbit - a fact discovered by the great astronomer Johannes Kepler in the 16th century, and certainly not known to untutored African tribes. They also put the position of Sirius exactly where it ought to be, rather than where someone might naturally guess - that is, at a focal point near the edge of the ellipse, rather than in the centre.
So how did the Dogon come to have this unearthly knowledge? So far as the Dogon priests are concerned, there is no ambiguity whatsoever in the answer to this question. They believe profoundly that amphiboius creatures from a planet within the Sirius system landed on Earth in distant times and passed on the information to initiates, who in turn handed it down over the centuries. They call the creatures Nommo, and worship them as 'the monitors of the universe, the fathers of mankind, guardians of its spiritual principles, dispensers of rain and masters of the water'.
Temple found that the Dogon also drew sand diagrams to portray the spinning, whirling descent of a Nommo 'ark', which he took to mean some sort of spaceship. As he put it: 'The descriptions of the landing of the ark are extremely precise. The ark is said to have landed on the Earth to the north-east of the Dogon country, which is where the Dogon claim to have come from originally.
'The Dogon describe the sound of the landing of the ark. They say the 'word' of Nommo was cast down by him in the four directions as he descended, and it sounded like the echoing of the four large stone blocks being struck with stones by the children, according to special ryhthms, in a very small cave near Lake Debo. Presumably a thunderous vibrating sound is what the Dogon are trying to convey. One can imagine standing in the cave and holding one's ears at the noise. the descent of the ark must have sounded like a jet runway at close range.'
Other descriptions that the Dogon priests used to refer to the landing of the 'ark' tell how it came down on dry land and 'displaced a pile of dust raised by the whirlwind it caused. The violence of the impact roughened the ground... it skidded'.
Robert Temple's conclusions, first published in 1976 in his book The Sirius Mystery, are at once highly provocative and extensively researched. As such, his findings have been used as ammunition both by those who believe in extra-terrestrial visitations in Earth's formative past, and by those (including the majority of scientists and historians) who believe the idea is bunkum.
Erich von Daniken, for instance, whose best-selling books on the subject have now been shown to be based, in the main, on distorted evidence, has welcomed the Dogon beliefs, calling them 'conclusive proof...of ancient astronauts'. Against him range a number of science writers - among them Carl Sagan and Ian Ridpath - who believe the case is by no means proved, and that Temple has read too much into Dogon mythology.
Robert Temple himself, years after first becoming interested in the subject, found nothing to retract from in the answer he gave to his publisher, who expressed his central doubt about the manuscript thus: 'Mr Temple, do you believe it? Do you believe it yourself?'
Temple answered: 'Yes, I do. I have become convinced by my own research. In the beginning I was just investigating. I was sceptical. I was looking for hoaxes, thinking it couldn't be true. But then I began to discover more and more pieces which fit. And the answer is: Yes, I believe it.'
The crucial question is whether the Dogon's knowledge could have been obtained in any more ordinary, mundane way.
[Begin included text]
I did an hour's research on the Dogon mystery last night (not as big a deal as it sounds, I have a pretty decent collection of astronomy books and periodicals at home), I learned quite a bit. This may get a little long...
Apparently the originator of the mystery is Robert K.Temple in the 1975 book, "The Sirius Mystery". He says that the Dogon have a traditional belief in Sirius B, which claim that it's made of a material called "sagala" (translation: "strong") "so heavy that all earthly beings combined cannot lift it". The Dogon also accept the idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and are aware of the 4 Galilean moons of Jupiter and Saturn's rings. As in the previous reply, this was all discovered in the 1930s, when the Dogon were anthropologically investigated.
Ok, so what did western civilization know about these things by 1930? Sirius B was discovered in 1862 (not 1962) by Alvan Clark as he was testing the new lens he'd made for Dearborn Observatory's 18 1/2 inch refracting telescope. He at first thought he'd found a defect in the lens, but he finally realized he'd discovered the companion star that had been suspected since 1844. From 1834 to 1844 F.W.Bessel had noticed a wavy irregularity in the motion of Sirius against the background stars, and had concluded that it had an invisible companion. The orbit of the proposed compainion had been calculated in 1851 by C.H.F.Peters.
By 1910 astronomers began to realize that there were a class of stars, eventually called white dwarfs, which were very small and dim, yet very massive, which meant they had to be incredibly dense. In 1915 the first spectrum of Sirius B was obtained by W.Adams at Mt.Wilson, which is all that would have been needed to classify it as a white dwarf. However, I couldn't find any information on when it was indeed realized that Sirius B was a white dwarf.
Saturn's rings and Jupiter's Galilean moons had been known since the invention of the telescope. By 1930 four more of Jupiter's moons had been discovered, however, the fifth was found as late as 1892 by E.E. Barnard, and the rest followed as photography came into use as an astronomical tool around the turn of the century.
As for a third star, Phillip Fox reported in 1920 that the image of Sirius B had appeared to be double, using the same 18 1/2 inch refractor with which Clark discovered B. R.T.Innes in S.Africa and van den Bos, a renowned double-star observer, also reported the 3rd star. I should note here that these were visual studies, and the object in question is at the very limit of what can be observed with a telescope. In 1973 a study by I.W.Lindenblad at the U.S.Naval Observatory concluded that there is no astrometric (measurement of irregularities of motion against the background, probably on photographs) evidence for a 3rd star.
My conclusions: Nothing extraordinary need be invoked to account for the Dogon's knowledge. Someone probably gave the Dogons the information, probably after 1920. I admit there are inconsistencies: anyone astronomically knowledgeable enough to know about Sirius B would most likely have known about the additional moons of Jupiter, but then again, so would any hypothetical visitors from beyond. Also, why did the Dogons claim that this was part of their traditions? By the way, I could not confirm the Dogons knowledge of a 3rd star. This is unfortunate, as it would prove beyond doubt that they were given all this information by someone, as the modern study showed no such star.
[End included text]
The following texts are from THE MYSTERIOUS WORLD: AN ATLAS OF THE UNEXPLAINED, by Francis Hitching.
South of the Sahara desert live four related tribes of Africans whom the French anthropologists Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen studied from 1946-1950, living mainly with the Dogon people and inspiring such confidence that four of their head priests were persuaded to reveal their most secret traditions. There is no doubt that what the two scientists were told was authentic; so highly respected were they by the Dogon that when Griaule died in 1956, 250,000 Africans from the area gathered in tribute for his funeral in Mali.
Drawing patterns and symbols in the dusty soil, Dogon priests showed that they had inherited from ancient times a knowledge of the universe that was unbelievably accurate. The focus of their attention was the star Sirius, the brightest in the sky -- in fact, a binary star; around Sirius A, the star we can see, revolves Sirius B, a "white dwarf" star of great density which is totally invisible to the naked eye, and was seen for the first time in 1862 by the American Alvan Clark when he peered through the largest telescope then existing, and spotted a faint point of light; being 100,000 times less bright than Sirius A, it was not possible to capture it on a photograph until 1970. Yet the Dogon not only knew about this star, but also many of its characteristics. They knew it was white, and that although it was "the smallest thing there is," it was also "the heaviest star," made of a substance "heavier than all the iron on Earth" -- a good description of Sirius B's density, which is so great that a cubic metre weighs around 20,000 tons. They knew correctly that its orbit round Sirius A took 50 years, and was not circular but elliptical; they even knew the position of Sirius A within the ellipse.
Their knowledge of astronomy in general was no less astonishing. They drew the halo that surrounds Saturn, which is impossible to detect with normal eyesight; they knew about the four main moons of Jupiter; they knew that the planets revolved around the sun, that the Earth is round and that it spins on its own axis; incredibly, they were sure that the Milky Way is a spiral-like shape, a fact not known to astronomers until well into this century. They also believed that their knowledge was obtained from extra-terrestrial visitors.
Amphibians from Sirius
...this star (called Sirius B by modern astronomers) has formed the basis of the most sacred Dogon beliefs since antiquity. So how could they have learned so much about it? There seem only two conceivable possibilities: either they used some form of divination or distant viewing, as in psychic experiments being carried out today; or, as the Dogon themselves believe profoundly, visitors from a planet attached to Sirius B landed on Earth and passed on the knowledge themselves. This is the solution which the historian Robert Temple has explored in a remarkable book "The Sirius Mystery," in which he makes out a persuasive case for the Dogons being the last people on Earth to worship extra-terrestrial amphibians who landed in the Persian Gulf at the dawn of civilization, and whose presence can be detected in drawings and legends of the gods of ancient Babylonia, Egypt, and Greece.
He describes how the Dogon call the creatures Nommos, who have to live in water. They are said to have arrived in an ark, and drawings in the dust portray "the spinning or whirling descent of the ark." They describe the noise of thunder that it made, and a whirlwind of dust caused by the violence of its impact with the ground. Other legends tell of "spurting blood" from the ark, which may refer to its rocket exhaust; the Dogon also seem to make a distinction between the ark that actually landed on earth, and a star-like object in the sky that may represent the main inter-stellar spaceship.
All this might just be science fiction curiousity were it not for the extraordinary scholarship that took Robert Temple back to the origins of the Dogon in Libya, and from there to the undoubted parallels between their Nommo and the amphibian god of Babylon, Oannes, a superior being who with his companions was to have taught the Sumerian mathematics, astronomy, agriculture, social and political organization, and written language....Surviving fragments of the "Babylonian History" written in Greek by a priest named Berossus, describe Oannes closely: "The whole body of the animal was like that of a fish; and it had under a fish's head another head, and also feet below, similar to those of a man, subjoined to the fish's tail. His voice, too, and language, were articulate and human; and a representation of him is preserved even to this day....When the sun set, it was the custom of this Being to plunge again into the sea, and abide all night in the deep; for he was amphibious."
Having established the parallel between the two gods, Robert Temple makes a closely-argued case that Oannes and the Sirius connection is at the heart of the Classical "mystery religions" that have so far defied explanation because they were deliberately recorded in coded form; initiates of the mysteries were forbidden to reveal the arcane knowledge they had been taught. But various clues were written down to indicate the link with Sirius -- for instance, the repeating motif of 50 representing the orbital period of Sirius B, and a dog-headed deity or other dog-associations representing Sirius A, the "Dog Star."
Temple recounts many legends that back up his theme, and because these were originally intended to be elusive, it is not surprising that they have many other interpretations. But it is hard to disagree that a Sirius factor is present in many of them. Moreover, there is a rich fund of material in Greek myth that tends to support his theory, but is not included in his book.
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