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Monday, March 26, 2007

Sirius, the Dog Star

Dogon stilt-dancers of Western Mali imitating long-legged water birds.

The Dogons of Western Africa are renowned for their astronomical lore. Part of their tribal beliefs is the knowledge, mysteriously acquired, that Sirius is a binary star. Or so the French anthropologists Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen claimed, after spending 25 years with the Dogon and being inducted into their tribal secrets. They also claimed that the Dogon were aware of the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter, both of which are invisible to the naked eye. Robert Temple published a book on the subject in 1975, The Sirius Mystery. Among the possible sources of the Dogons' knowledge is an earlier, technologically advanced civilisation which has now vanished. Afrocentrists have also posited the Dogons' melanin levels, allowing them to witness these phenomena with their bare eyes. And most fancifully of all, others have suggested the Dogons had contact with amphibious aliens, keen to spread basic astronomical literacy in Western Africa.

However, other anthropologists who have studied the Dogon have found no evidence whatever of the Sirius theory. Writing in 1991, Walter von Beek concluded that Griaule's informant may have been subject to 'cultural contamination' from Dogon travellers in Europe, European travellers to Western Africa, or, tired of an annoying Frenchman asking him questions for twenty-five years, had decided to sell him a warehouseful of porkies.

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