In the latest edition of Edge Science magazine (June 2015), Anthony Mugan claims that it is time to reappraise the Sirius Mystery and that there is evidence that the skeptics are wrong about the lack of evidence that the Dogon had secret knowledge of the Sirius star system. This gets a little complicated due to the amount of backstory needed to understand it, so I will try to keep this as simple as I can.
In the Sirius Mystery (1976), Robert Temple makes many extreme claims about an African tribe called the Dogon on the basis of anthropological work conducted by Marcel Griaule and Germain Dieterlen in the 1930s and 1940s. Griaule claimed that Dogon elders had shared with him knowledge about the star Sirius being a triple star, with its second star being a small dwarf with a 50-year orbit. Although much of this information had been known to science since 1862, Temple claimed that the Dogon could have learned it only from space aliens. (Science does not recognize a third star in the Sirius system.) When anthropologist Walter Van Beek attempted to confirm this story in the 1980s, he discovered no evidence that the Dogon had any special knowledge of Sirius, or that the stories Griaule reported were known to the Dogon. Many skeptics have concluded that Griaule unintentionally contaminated his research by unconsciously feeding his own knowledge of Sirius back to the Dogon. I have elsewhere reported on the failures of Temple’s scholarship that led him from this question to a faulty hypothesis of dissemination from Mesopotamia via the Argonauts.
Mugan disagrees with this assessment and claims that there is evidence that the Dogon inherited space alien knowledge of Sirius from Egypt. He begins by focusing two critiques of van Beek published in Current Anthropology alongside Van Beek’s 1991 article. One of the critics was in fact Griaule’s daughter, who is perhaps not the most disinterested source. The thrust of this criticism is that Van Beek was not privy to the Dogon’s true secrets because he didn’t have the same level of initiation as Griaule in Dogon ritual life. This criticism depends on us believing that the Dogon are exceptional secret keepers and that not a single trace of their space alien knowledge manifests in any other aspect of their culture. It’s a tall order, and not one supported by most other anthropological researchers since 1991.
The crux of Mugan’s argument rests on a 1960 book by Eva Meyerowitz, the wife of a British colonial official in the Gold Coast, claiming that the Akan of Ghana inherited Egyptian notions of divine kingship. After her husband’s suicide, Meyerowitz devoted herself to studying the Akan-speaking peoples of the region. Meyerowitz, like many colonialists of her day, did not believe Black Africans could develop advanced cultures. She therefore attributed most aspects of Akan culture to Libyan Berbers who supposedly migrated south and brought their superior Greco-Egyptian-derived knowledge with them from the high cultures of the Mediterranean. Anthropologists today, however, trace the origins of the Akan people to the sixth century CE and peoples of the Sahara desert or the Sahel region. The Akan oral histories trace the origins of their ruling clan back to the Sudan before Islam, so there is a potentially plausible connection to Egypt, albeit a tenuous one separated in time by 1500 years or more.
According to later reappraisals of Meyerowitz’s work by Dennis Mike Warrens in 1970 and others, her analysis was faulty and her facts wrong, based in large measure on her lack of familiarity with local language and customs. Her distortions of Ghanaian history are the “most famous” case of bad anthropology in the country, according to A. Darkwah et al., writing in Changing Perspectives on the Social Sciences in Ghana (2014).
Robert Temple had used Meyerowitz’s claims of a Berber origin for the Akan (gained secondhand from Robert Graves, who misused them for other purposes; Temple never read Meyerowitz) to support his similar—and completely unsupported claim—that the Dogon were the descendants of the Greek colonists of Libya, specifically Jason’s Argonauts.
Mugan feels that similarities between the Dogon, the Akan, and the Egyptians demonstrate a connection. These similarities include:
In support of the alleged connection among these culture, Mugan cites outdated books and fringe websites, which lends his argument no credence. But even taking it at face value, it offers no evidence for any diffusion of space alien star knowledge.
Mugan then drags Andrew Collins’s ideas about Göbekli Tepe into the discussion to suggest that it wasn’t aliens but Western Asian super-elites who discovered the Sirius knowledge and seeded it across the high cultures of the Mediterranean. This is apparently his attempt to seem more reasonable than Robert Temple, but the long and short of it is still the same: The “Sirius complex of ideas” is built on a foundation of imaginary connections born of outdated research, fringe ideas, and the ever-present belief in the fallacy of “looks like, therefore is.”
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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