oh Dogon it!

It’s a weird “credit”, but one of the persons who brought me into skepticism, was Von Däniken, the Swiss guy claiming that we have been visited in the past by alien civilizations, and that proof of this can be found in ancient writings and art. Luckily, I had the sense of looking beyond his books (I read several of them cover to cover). Von Däniken didn’t convince me, but at least he got me hooked on skepticism.

He is of course not the only person claiming such wild ideas. Another rather popular one is about the Dogon people, living in the now war-torn nation of Mali. Loosely based on the work of French anthropologist Griaule between 1931 and 1956, Temple wrote The Sirius Mystery in 1976. In it he claimed the Dogon had knowledge of the multiple star system Sirius, including properties of its stars, but also about the moons and rings of Saturn, elliptical orbits of planets, etc. To him it was clear that they could not have gathered this themselves, so: alien visitors. Forget about the hundred other possible explanations (recent contacts, wrongly documented, influenced by the anthropologist during interviews, pick-and-choose of available material to fit a preconceived notion, …), this is indeed the only solution.

Only, it is not. It’s not my goal here to debunk in detail the outlandish claims done in the book, or to discuss with the anthropological results (for a quick introduction, see The Skeptic’s Dictionary). I don’t mind people launching wacky ideas, it sometimes makes for a nice read, just like with Von Däniken. The fact is that years after the book was published, this story keeps popping up, but reinforced with an anti-science sauce. For a nice although frustrating example, see this post in the Inquirer. For added entertainment, play along the game of “Name that Fallacy”.

For instance: western astronomers for instance are categorized as “conservative”, in contrast to Temple of course (ad hominem). His work is “well-documented” (no it’s not – and what does it prove?) but his arguments are “dismissed without providing counter-arguments” (wrong again). A nice strawman comes into play, as those silly and stubborn Western researchers (with a hint of racism) would you rather have believe that this knowledge came from a now lost advanced civilization on Earth. A far cry from what Sagan proposed, that this advanced civilization was ours.

But the rant is not over: Licauco, the author of the column, links the “accurate knowledge” to of course the question of who built the pyramids, or the stone statues on Easter Island. And so the circle closes itself back to Von Däniken with a nice excursion via Bauval and the pyramidology. … Everything is linked, our ancestors had lots of contacts with intelligent alien beings, and only a handful “bold” people dare to state the (obvious) truth. Sigh indeed…

Which is all the more frustrating, as the Dogon people really are a fascinating people, with a rich culture and also an amazing architecture of their communities, given the sometimes harsh and hostile environment they live in. The UNESCO has rightly identified the Cliff of Bandiagara as a World Heritage Centre. Being wishy-washy about some purported link with advanced knowledge of a far away star system does a big discredit to what this people have achieved. The opinions of Temple or Von Däniken do not bother me that much. It’s that the promotion of ill-conceived fantasies actually ignores the real and much more interesting aspects of their culture.


Cliff of Bandiagara (Land of the Dogons)

About Bruno Van de Casteele

Philosopher by education, IT'er by trade. Allround Armchair Skeptic, History Enthousiast, Father of Three. Twitter @brunovdc Personal website: www.puam.be
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7 Responses to oh Dogon it!

  1. Freke1 says:

    If I was in the desert with a loin cloth, a stick, some string and water I would find out everything about the universe.
    The point is, how did the Dogon know about an invisible star before it was discovered, how did the mayans and egyptians know about the precession of the equinox. Aren’t You impressed?

    • Kindly explain me the proof that the Dogon knew the invisible (companion) star was there, and the equinox knowledge of Mayans and Egyptions. Then I will be impressed.

    • Freke1 says:

      interview with Robert Temple:
      part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9ruJ2t-xaE
      part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYV_q5rWdtM
      part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuoYJBq-JS4
      part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNEek_1i-9k

      interview with Laird Scranton:

      It funny how some things are accepted even as state religion and passed on to children, while other things are “debunked”.
      Genesis 6:1-4:
      “There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”

      Based on the Dogon knowledge Robert Temple predicted what the astronomers would find, which they later did. Sounds like a genuine mystery to me.

      • Bruno Van de Casteele says:

        I’m sorry, but just linking to videos is not what I would consider proving the point. It might be a nice illustration, but not proof. So I hope you don’t mind I didn’t watch them all. I could probably add the same amount of links, but I do not think this constitutes a discussion.

        Concerning the quote from Genesis, please be careful and don’t quote. If you quote a source, any source, you have to establish the correctness of this source. Furthermore, you have to consider the entire book of Genesis. Where in your “proof” is the relation with the garden of Eden, Noach, etc? If you consider it all literal truth, you have to explain that too, and not just quotemine what you like. If it’s not all “true” then you need to explain why this is true.
        And not to forget, prove how this shows that aliens were there. I can probably provide a comparable quote from Tolkien, does it prove then that orcs existed and that they were aliens?

        Finally, there is a very selective approach you take to the claims Temple did. You first have to
        - prove that the anthropological work was well done, and that it refers to a commonly held belief within (certain circles of) Dogon. Investigations have shown that it is based on the story of one man, and no further corroboration of his stories can be found later on by other Dogon.
        - prove that these stories indeed reference Sirius, and not, as others have claimed Venus or some other star.
        - explain why the eight different parts of “Sirius” mentioned by the Dogon guy cannot be found or have not be found AND have been ruled out by modern science. Temple only refers to two (max three) parts and counts them as hits (oh yeah, prove that too), and disregards the rest. You cannot just pick and choose, you have to provide an explanation for the whole.

        In all, I see no genuine mystery, unless it is the willingness to believe whatever without questioning it.

  2. Freke1 says:

    I have read Scranton’s book, but haven’t finished Temples’. Maybe You are right.

  3. Rob Struble says:

    “Based on the Dogon knowledge Robert Temple predicted what the astronomers would find, which they later did.”

    Texas Sharpshooter fallacy. How many other cultures had myths which on examination *didn’t* prove true? Why are those discarded and the one “successful” myth considered proof?

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