Somewhere in West Africa lives a tribe called the Dogon who have a special affection for the star we call Sirius. In ancient Dogon traditions, the star has two companion stars. One of the companion stars circles Sirius every 50 years, is very dense and extremely heavy. The thing is, these legends are thousands of years old, but they’re dead right.
Curiously, we westerners didn’t even know about Sirius B until the 19th century. It’s a white dwarf, a tiny, dense leftover from a star that has seen better days. You can’t see it without a telescope. And we should also mention that Sirius C, the second companion star, has only recently been proposed in theory, to explain a “perturbation” in Sirius B’s orbit. The Dogon have a 400-hundred-year-old statue that depicts all three stars.
What else say the Dogon? This is where it gets even weirder: thousands of years ago, they were visited by the Nommos, an amphibian-like race that came from the Sirius star system in a noisy “ark” that spun and whipped up wind while it landed. (Other ancient people, including the Babylonians, Accadians, and Sumerians, also have a legend of the Nommos, said to be ugly half-fish creatures–hello, Chthulu!) They came to aid humankind, and apparently spent years with the tribe, teaching them the secrets of civilization. Author Robert Temple, who wrote The Sirius Mystery, suggests that these visitors (if real) may have also stopped by to see the Egyptians and Babylonians.
So how does an African tribe have traditions that lay down specific astronomical facts — traditions that go back millenia? Lucky guesses?
Skeptics say: Astronomer Carl Sagan suggested that vagabond traders or missionaries might have told the Dogons about Sirius B and C, and this was folded into their mythology.
We say: Problem is, this fails Occam’s Razor: the simpler explanation is that the Dogon already knew. The more complicated scenario is that these mystery men, who do not appear in any records (Dogon or European), told the Dogon about Sirius B and suggested Sirius C (what, and didn’t mention anything else, like world politics or the price of tea?), then left without a trace of their visit(s). Not to mention that there were thousands of Dogon statues, blankets, and other objects that depicted the Sirius/B/C family. Old objects.
Skeptics say: Another critic, Walter van Beek of Belgium, has cited objections that have repeatedly been called a “devastating blow” to the mystery. His beef: he lived with the Dogon for years, and most of them didn’t know anything about Sirius. The ones who did, he claims, seemed to contradict each other.
We say: Given that the original researcher, Marcel Griaule, had reported that only 15% of the tribe were in on the secret, we shouldn’t be surprised that van Beek found the same thing. Contradictions in their legends? Maybe, but since Griaule didn’t find any, it’s simply the Belgian’s word against the Frenchman’s — hardly a “devastating blow”. Maybe the Dogon simply didn’t like van Beek — or perhaps he was simply talking to the wrong guys.