Interview: Laird Scranton


Laird Scranton is an independent software developer from Albany, New York. He is the author of several books and articles on African and Egyptian mythology and language.

Avi Solomon: Who are the Dogon?

Laird Scranton: The Dogon are a modern-day African tribe from Mali who seem to observe many interesting ancient traditions. In fact, their culture can be seen as a kind of cross-roads for several important ancient traditions. As just a few examples, they wear skull caps and prayer shawls, circumcise their young, and celebrate a Jubilee Year like ancient Jews, they observe the same calendars and establish their villages and districts in pairs called "Upper" and "Lower" like ancient Egypt, and they preserve a detailed cosmology that bears close resemblance to Buddhism, only expressed using ancient Egyptian terms.

Dogon granaries in North Africa. Photo: Robin Taylor

Avi: What got you interested in the Dogon?

Laird: I came across references to the Dogon in a book called "Unexplained" by Jerome Clark, one of whose chapters discusses the mystery of how the Dogon - without the aid of modern telescopes - may have acquired specialized knowledge of astronomy.

Avi: How do the Dogon embody and transmit their knowledge?

Laird: The Dogon have no native written language and have apparently transmitted their knowledge from generation to generation orally, with the assistance of a complex set of mnemonic symbols and drawings, beginning with a grand mnemonic aligned ritual structure called a granary. Although the Dogon religion is a secret or esoteric tradition — meaning that only initiates to the religion are allowed to learn its innermost secrets — it is open to any person (male or female, Dogon or non-Dogon) who sincerely wishes to pursue it. A Dogon priest is required to respond truthfully to any question that is deemed appropriate to the initiate's status, and to remain silent (or lie, if necessary) in response to any question that is deemed to be "out of order."

Avi: What is the significance of Dogon cosmological myths?

Laird: The Dogon see their myths both as an instructed civilizing plan for humanity and as a coherent description of the processes of creation — both cosmological and biological. These myths begin with what are essentially fireside stories that describe in general terms how the stars and planets were formed, and include many of the archetypical themes and storylines of classical mythology, such as the Greek notion of stealing fire from the gods. However, the next level of myth and symbolism is intimately intertwined with civilizing skills such weaving, agriculture, metallurgy, and so on. Each act of daily Dogon life carries with it a degree of cosmological symbolism, and so each daily act reinforces what a Dogon tribesperson learns about the processes of creation.

Avi: How did the Dogon know that Sirius had a companion star and the exact length of it's orbit?

Laird: The contention of the Dogon priests is that they learned it from revered ancestor or teachers, who were more capable and knowledgeable than the Dogon.

Avi: Could this knowledge have been transmitted to the Dogon by westerners?

Laird: A person could argue that the Dogon learned it from westerners, however in my opinion there are some significant difficulties with that point of view. First, both Dogon cosmology and their concepts relating to Sirius are given using ancient Egyptian words. For example, the great Dogon festival of Sirius — called the Sigi — is arguably the Egyptian word skhai, meaning "to celebrate a festival." In fact, in my books I trace virtually every key cosmological term of the Dogon to likely ancient Egyptian counterparts. Moreover, these words typically carry at least two levels of meaning, both of which can be shown to have existed in similar form in ancient Egypt. So the first difficulty lies with finding a western source that could have credibly given this information to the Dogon couched in ancient Egyptian words. Moreover, many of these same words are known to exist in the languages of other African tribes, so we would then have to explain how they came to be adopted in those languages.

Avi: Did the Dogon trick Marcel Griaule? Or did Griaule make up the Dogon mythology himself?

Laird: In his day, Marcel Griaule was the pre-eminent French anthropologist. He and his team studied the Dogon over the course of three decades, from the 1930'ss to the time of Griaule's death in 1956. Griaule characterized the Dogon religion as a closely-held secret tradition. In 1975, the Dogon became controversial when Robert Temple suggested that their Sirius knowledge could represent evidence of an alien contact. In the 1980's, Belgian anthropologist Walter Van Beek conducted a much briefer re-study of the Dogon, which turned up no evidence of Griaule's tradition. Based on this, Van Beek — rather than surmising that he might have failed to successfully penetrate what Griaule described as a secret tradition — concluded that the obliging Dogon priests had invented a cosmology to satisfy Griaule's questions. Van Beek also concluded that the Dogon granary was a form known only to Griaule.

In 2007 — fifty years after Griaule's death — my daughter returned from a visit to India excited to have seen aligned ritual structures called stupas that she felt resembled my Dogon granary. I pursued the resemblance and soon discovered that the cosmological symbolism of a Buddhist stupa is a point-for-point match with the symbolism reported by Griaule for the Dogon granary. In fact, the Dogon are known to have migrated to their current location from a region of North Africa that was a known home to ancient Buddhism. In other words, for Professor Van Beek to be correct, we'd have to believe the Dogon priests capable of having casually invented Buddhism. Likewise, the granary form that Van Beek concluded was known only to Griaule, was in fact familiar to large populations all across India and Asia.

Avi: How is the Dogon granary related to the Buddhist Stupa?

Laird: Each represents the Grand Mnemonic of their associated cosmologies — a structure whose plan recreates key shapes that relate both to the processes of creation and to the acquisition of civilizing skills. Both are based on the same basic plan, evoke the same series of geometric shapes in the same sequence and assign the same symbolism to those shapes. Both are tied to detailed cosmologies that define the processes of biological and cosmological creation, defined by matching symbols and concepts.

Avi: Can you give some significant examples of connection between Dogon and Egyptian words?

Laird: Each key term of Dogon cosmology comes packaged as a kind of bundle that includes: 1) Its pronunciation. 2) At least two logically-disconnected meanings, such that you cannot reasonably guess the secondary meanings simply by knowing the first. 3) An associated cosmological drawing. 4) A relationship to a stage of creation and/or mythogical character within the cosmology.

When proposing correlations between Dogon and Egyptian words, my intent is to demonstrate likely correlations between each of the bundle's elements.

While developing these matching sets of elements, I came to realize that the most consistent matches were to the Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary of Wallis Budge, not to the German Worterbuch that is preferred by many modern Egyptologists. The consensus is that Budge's dictionary is outdated and often unreliable — some Egyptologists go so far as to say that Budge could barely read Egyptian hieroglyphs. Nonetheless, I realize that it would be unreasonable to suggest that Budge could have been grossly wrong about Egyptian words and yet still somehow in predictable agreement with the Dogon. And so I offer the body of interrelated Dogon words as new evidence to show that Budge must have been substantially correct in his understanding of Egyptian words of cosmology.

In my books I provide detail to support various Dogon/Egyptian word correlations. Examples include the name of a Dogon mythological character named Ogo, who plays the role of "light" in the Dogon creation myths, and the name of the Egyptian light god Aakhu. The Dogon counterpart to an atom is called po, while the Egyptian term for "mass, matter, substance" is pau. Components of the po are referred to using words such as sene, and sene bennu that are likely counterparts to the Egyptian words sen and sennu. The Dogon term bummo is a likely correlate to the Egyptian phrase bu maa, both the Dogon and Egyptian terms nu refer to water. The name if the Dogon creator god Amma is commonly correlated to the name Amen in the languages of various African tribes. The Dogon nummo is a likely counterpart to the Egyptian phrase nu maa.

I have attempted to correlate each key Dogon cosmological term to an Egyptian counterpart and supported those correlations with other "bundled" evidence - relationship to a common drawn shape, relationship to a matching mythological character, sharing position in the overall cosmology, and so on.

Avi: What are the Dogon parallels to Judaism?

Laird: I've mention that the Dogon wear skull caps, prayer shawls, circumcise their young, and celebrate a Jubilee year. They also have a tradition of ancestral families similar to the tribes of Judaism — one called Lebe (similar to the Levi in Judaism) and a priestly class called Hogon (similar to the Cohen in Judaism). The traditional symbolism of a Jewish altar and a Jewish chuppa are a close match for the Dogon granary and Buddhist stupa. Many of the Egyptian cosmological words are also Hebrew words — for example, a skhet is defined as a hut made of twigs and branches, similar to a sukkah. Budge often uses Hebrew words as a basis for comparison for pronunciation and meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphic words and the Dogon terms support these comparisons. Early in my studies, seemingly obvious parallels between Dogon words, symbols, concepts or rituals and those of Judaism helped convince me that the Dogon could be an important subject for study.

Avi: What wider speculations about the development of civilization can you draw from your comparative studies?

Laird: Each culture that I've studied who outwardly shares what I call "signature aspects" of this same cosmology understands it as an instructed civilizing plan, which they associate with knowledgeable teachers. Some explicitly claim that these teachers were non-human. Many - like the ancient Egyptians - state that they received their systems of writing, agricultural grains, or skills of metallurgy from "gods".

The suggestion is that there was - at some time prior to 3400 BC - a global Peace Corps - like effort to raise humanity up from the state of hunter-gatherers to a more civilized state.

From that perspective, the many striking similarities we see globally in ancient myth and symbol would be the surviving product of a shared system of instruction. Although many argue that cultures of similar capability and with access to similar environments and materials would naturally evolve similar themes and form, in my opinion these arguments beg the question of the often very complex symbolism that commonly attaches itself to those forms.

For example, the four faces of the pyramid-like Dogon granary are associated with the same four star groups as pyramids in the Americas, which were then used to regulate an agricultural cycle. Both cultures conceived of their pyramids as a woman lying on her back.

Perhaps most important is the notion, corroborated from culture to culture , that the system was instructed. One purpose of my studies has been to try to illuminate by way of comparison some of the very sensible aspects of that apparent plan.

Avi: What is the situation of the Dogon today?

Laird: The Dogon represent about 300,000 individuals today and are facing the many pressures of contact with more modern societies and technologies. Tourism has created an industry for them and provides a venue for their interesting traditional artwork. Even so, their inhospitable location in a hot, remote desert climate helps to maintain their independent identity. One can only hope that a cultural system that has proved its stability over periods of almost three thousand years in Egypt and perhaps an additional two thousand years, the Dogon will sustain itself in the midst of many modern pressures.


  1. “One can only hope that a cultural system that has proved its stability over periods of almost three thousand years in Egypt and perhaps an additional two thousand years, the Dogon will sustain itself in the midst of many modern pressures.”

    Let’s hope so Laird. Their art, architecture and funeral masquerades remain a fascination for many, even to those of us with strong birth and cultural links to the continent

  2. This is crazy, unscientific woo. I’m disappointed that you would publicize such nonsense. You should have consulted someone with a background in African archaeology, history, and ethnography.

    1. There’s really nothing unscientific about explicit statements on the part of the cultures studied and simple, direct, side-by-side comparisons of those statements, which – for the most part – is what my studies are based on.

      – Laird

  3. @Zora point taken, but listening to so called experts, who often inhabit their own “expert world” spew their knowledge incessantly is like watching paint dry.

  4. So odd that this was posted just now. I watched a recent addition to Netflix stream called The Secret Life of Plants the night before last which was concerned with a great number of, shall we say, fortean claims. I knew of it because of the Stevie Wonder album, which turns out was the soundtrack to the film (there was a book first, too.)

    ANYway, the film details how the Dogon knew the specific orbit of a star around Sirius, even though they had no telescopes and the orbiting star is not visible without powerful ones. They claim this star was the seed that begat life in the universe (hence the plant connection.) Cut to a very modern-for-the-time (hilariously dated now) computer lab at an allegedly reputable astronomy outfit, which alleged that their lab was the first to accurately track said orbit, confirming that the Dogon were right all along. Mind-boggling, if true.

    Hey, man; I dunno nothing, but if it isn’t on the level, then this is a tremendously elaborate hoax without any obvious gain. “Follow the money?” What money? They’ve lived in the desert for centuries. It would seem the whole society is only concerned with metaphysics. Besides: Stevie Wonder did the music! Right?

    1. I suspect that these claims that the Dogon knew something special about Sirius are a result of cultural contamination by the anthropologists.

      First, according to Wikipedia (, the fact that Sirius is a pair of stars was well-known before Marcel Griaule did his work:

      “In 1844 German astronomer Friedrich Bessel deduced from changes in the proper motion of Sirius that it had an unseen companion. Nearly two decades later, on January 31, 1862, American telescope-maker and astronomer Alvan Graham Clark first observed the faint companion, which is now called Sirius B…”

      The Dogon wouldn’t have known this (unless someone had given them a nice 12 inch amateur telescope 50 years prior to the anthropological study), but Griaule could have.

      Second, the orbit of the pair of stars is 50 years long. This just happens to be the same length as the interval between Old Testament Jubilees, which Griaule also claimed that the Dogon celebrated. So, the claimed knowledge of the orbit can be a coincidence, seeded either by actual Dogon knowledge of the Jubilee, or by the anthropologist’s possible desire to synthesize many cultural threads within his research.

    2. Cosmic coincidence control pays special attention to those who pay special attention to it,

  5. @Zora, you should try catching up on modern archaeology, start by googling Göbekli Tepe.

  6. I’m always a little wary of the “ancient knowledge” of oral societies. I have a couple examples, and while anecdotes are not data, neither is oral history:

    In about 1987 my father went to work on the San Carlos Apache reservation. Because he was working in, let’s say, a social service dimension he bought literally EVERY book on Apaches. Some were racist monographs by people who considered them savages, some were well researched archeological tomes. Linguistic and cultural theory books, arts and crafts books, historical accounts from conquistadors, Spanish missionaries, territorial governments etc. etc.

    According to the Apache religion / oral history, they have lived in the Southwest (Northern Mexico, Southern Arizona, Southern New Mexico) forever and have a series of places associated with their creation myths. However, according to historical evidence from the Spanish period and archaeological evidence the Apaches were in Texas a mere 500 years ago. Linguistic evidence suggest that they are part of the last migration out of Alaska before European Colonization began and that they traveled along the Eastern side of the Rockies until they reached Texas.

    But, you say, that was 500 years ago! Half a millennium!

    And our second anecdote:

    About four or five years into working on the res, (and buying lots of art work / crafts) my father began to notice something strange. All of these Apache ladies who had been selling things like dolls, camp dresses, bead work and cradle boards (all for tourists) were now selling (sometimes in addition to, sometimes exclusively) dream catchers. Dream catchers are a plains tribe item, but had become popular with a certain new age type crowd. They were never part of the Apache craft repertoire, even when Apaches were being kept at Fort Sill Oklahoma. But when my father asked these women why they were making dream catchers, they were all affronted. Because you see, they had always made dream catchers. Their grandmothers had taught them how. Dream catchers had hung above their own beds at night. Dream catchers were Apache and those plains tribes had stolen them.

    And this wasn’t rigamarole for the tourists (which someone would often jokingly admit to my father – like the time they were selling baskets made in Korea to tourists), this was something they believed and they stuck to the story to this day.

    Now I don’t believe these people were lying. I believe that oral culture is highly mutable and posseses different ideas about history, memory and “fact” than a culture that depends on writing.

    And finally, I find the idea that aliens came to earth, because humans were too stupid to figure out, after a couple million years of being human and 7 or 8 thousand years of planting and harvesting crops, that you planted stuff in the spring and harvested in the fall and also by the way, plants need water and irrigation systems and hey if you put a couple rocks on top of each other sometimes they’ll stay and you can build things, so insulting it is almost impossible for me to say. Also, I find it charming that these ‘impossibly advanced’ cultures were almost entirely inhabited by brown people while Europeans were still mucking about in caves — of course Europeans didn’t need aliens, only dumb brown people. Ancient aliens is little more than a cover for racism of the highest order: people would rather believe that all humans are incapable idiots than some who don’t look like them got to civilization first. Astounding.

  7. “In fact, the Dogon are known to have migrated to their current location from a region of North Africa that was a known home to ancient Buddhism.”

    Oh yeah, that region of North Africa.

      1. Could you please provide some scholarly sources for the Buddha-North Africa connection? I read the link you provided, but it mostly seemed to be talking about someone’s theories and unconventional interpretations of the Quran. I didn’t see any citations or anything…

        1. Sure. For starters, try a book called:

          The Historical Interaction Between the Buddhist and Islamic Cultures before the Mongol Empire
          Alexander Berzin, 1996

          Specifically: Chapter 3: Pre-Islamic Presence of Buddhism in North Africa and Asia.

          – Laird

      2. Please.

        First of all, the site you linked is simply a copy of this:

        Then, the reference given by yourself simply does not list any Buddhist communities in North Africa…

        For North Africa, it is given as a source of information only Dio Chrysostom, and Dio speaks only of a “few Indians” (Hindus? Buddhists?) in Alexandria (Or. 32, 39).

        Oh, well. So long for this “lot of documentation”.

        1. If you’re in doubt that Buddhism was a thriving religion in North Africa in ancient times, google [“Niger River” Buddhism] and you will see that it is thought to have been on the decline as early as 1100 AD. The Dogon moved from the Niger River to their current locale around 1500 AD as Islam moved in.

          – Laird

          1. Oh, my. I am so dull that even this simple scholarly task (a search of “Niger River” Buddhism) baffles me. I can’t find ANY reference to Buddhism in North Africa in ancient times… could you please be so kind as to point out even a single documented piece of evidence about this long-lost wonder?

          2. Try the fourth entry down. You don’t even have to call it up – there is sufficient information in the google tag to confirm my point.

            The Earth and Its Peoples, Volume I: A Global History, to 1550 – Google Books Result
            Richard Bulliet, Pamela Kyle Crossley, Daniel Headrick – 2008 – History – 411 pages

            “Timbuktu City on the Niger River in the modern country of Mali. … Muslim invasions eliminated the last strongholds of long-declining Buddhism, including, …”

            – Laird

          3. OK, I will bite and I will answer as if the originale text was written in good faith…

            “Oh, Laird, the quote you posted is not a quote; Google, that pesky thing, has fished out two unrelated phrases coming from two different sections of a book page, and put them together. Please, call up the book – you need only to follow the link – and you will find that the second phrase refers to the Muslim invasions of India, not to a Muslim invasion of Africa”.

            At this point, it’s difficult to decide if the dominant mood is “puzzlement” or “sadness”.

          4. Laird, that reference you provided actually says:

            “In India, Muslim invasions eliminated the last strongholds of long-declining Buddhism, including…” with the part before your ellipses no-where nearby.

          5. Although I misused that entry as an example, my point in presenting the google search was to document that there are many references to the Niger River region and to Buddhism. Check a little further and you’ll find mention of such things as African towns in the Niger River area that bear Buddhist and Hindu names.

            I apologize for the confusion – I should have checked the linked article before suggesting the tag as a reference.

            From the standpoint of cosmology, the comparisons between Griaule’s Dogon cosmology and Buddhism are best illustrated by two sources:

            Griaule & Dieterlen’s finished study of the Dogon religion “The Pale Fox” (published in the mid 1960’s), and Adrian Snodgrass’s “The Symbolism of the Stupa” (published in the 1980’s). Snodgrass is a reknowned authority on Buddhist architecture and symbolism. There is a very close match between both the plan and symbolism of the two shrines and the two cosmologies to which they relate.

            In truth, the claim that Dogon cosmology represents a form of Buddhism rests primarily on these studies.

            – Laird

        2. Taking my own advice, I googled [“Niger River” Buddhist] and turned up 92,800 hits. I haven’t actually looked up the definition of “lots” on but I can, if you like.

          – Laird

          1. That’s good. Googling [“Little green men” New York] I found 1,750,000 hits… So, THAT’s a proof!


            I hope the editors of Boing Boing can came up with something better, next time. This whole story is so sad it makes me… well… can we have an interview with a Dogon musket-maker, next time?

  8. Just for giggles, let me just throw in that some ancient scholars and philosophers recorded that Sirius was reddish; when you look at it today, it clearly is not. Could one of its component members at one time been a red star? Who can say. To my knowledge, however, the Dogon do not mention this in their mythology. I tend to lean towards cultural contamination prior.

    1. I thought of “red Sirius,” too. However, the Chinese never recorded Sirius as red, always as white:

      The most likely explanation for Ptolemy and others referring to Sirius as red is that the emergence of the star low on the horizon was used by the Egyptians to determine when the Nile was about to flood. As you might know from watching sunsets, objects low on the horizon often look red (the atmosphere is good at scattering blue light). Therefore, when the appearance of Sirius would have been most significant, Egyptians and their antecedents (Ptolemy, for instance) would have seen a red star; the monicker may have stuck, even if they knew it was white when it was higher in the sky. You can find a discussion of red Sirius here, although the comments are better than the article: .

      In any case, one should apply a lot of skepticism to ancient observations of nature. For instance, few people would suggest that all objects on Earth used to move predominantly straight up and down at constant speed, as Aristotle said they were wont to do…

    2. Because the Dogon have no indigenous written language – unless the color of Sirius attained some level of significance in their esoteric tradition – we would have no way of knowing whether the Dogon saw it as reddish in color. However, in Egypt where writing did develop, there is a tradition that Isis – a goddess often associated with Sothis/Sirius – was born a dark red woman.

      – Laird

  9. Boingboing, I am disappoint.

    First the Dogon’s ties to Buddhism are proved by the fact that “the cosmological symbolism of a Buddhist stupa is a point-for-point match with the symbolism reported by Griaule for the Dogon granary,” and then two minutes later “a Jewish chuppa are a close match for the Dogon granary.” So we can prove the Dogon are related to all these other implausibly distant groups because, um, some sacred spaces are similar to other sacred spaces? wtf? Anthropology FAIL.

    Also, as a Buddhist, “In fact, the Dogon are known to have migrated to their current location from a region of North Africa that was a known home to ancient Buddhism” made me lol.

    1. Compare what Griaule says about Dogon cosmology in his works with what Adrian Snodgrass says about a stupa in “The Symbolism of a Stupa.” Then look up the symbolism of a chuppa in Judaism.

      – Laird

  10. The source-of-Buddhism line made me go “huh?” too, but it’s funny to see Buddhists jump in here all booty hurt (Buddhi hurt?) at the suggestion that some of their tenets might have a source that pre-dates Guatama sitting and meditating them up.

    1. The source-of-Buddhism line made me go “huh?” too, but it’s funny to see Buddhists jump in here all booty hurt (Buddhi hurt?) at the suggestion that some of their tenets might have a source that pre-dates Guatama sitting and meditating them up.

      Since Buddhism stems from Hinduism, I’d be pretty surprised to meet a Buddhist who didn’t think that Shakyamuni Buddha was a follower of a multi-thousand year-old tradition.

  11. James Randi dissects this story very nicely in his book “Flim-Flam”, written almost thirty years ago.

    Dogon it, this is just more ancient-astronauts woo.

    1. Unfortunately, Randi also completely missed the apparent identity between Griaule’s Dogon cosmology and Buddhist stupa cosmology.

      – Laird

  12. Well… as a Buddhist myself, the notion of Buddhism in N. Africa does seem weird. However, as someone with a BA and some grad work in Religious Studies, it doesn’t. Religions are viral, and there is definite evidence of ancient travel between India and Egypt, Syria, and Yemen. Anyway, a quick google search on “Buddhism North Africa” didn’t pull up tons, but it did provide enough for me to feel confident that there has been some reasonable scholarly discussion in this area. A recent, quite readable example thereof:


    1. The Silk Road extended into Egypt. How far west did the Egyptians trade? Could early Buddhist have traveled to Egypt and beyond? It isn’t out of the question,

      Trade is the ultimate cultural contamination. The silk road has been contaminating cultures for at least 3,000 years.

      1. My studies suggest that Dogon culture preserves a very eary form of Egyptian cosmology. The Dogon/Buddhist model provides a framework into which many of the seemingly disparate elements of Egyptian cosmology fit neatly. What this implies is that all three cosmologies may have derived from a common parent cosmology.

        If you take at face value the statements of many of these cultures that they viewed their cosmologies as an instructed civilizing plan (even the Egyptian claim to have been given their written language), then the question boils down to whether the seemingly knowledgeable instructors of this plan would have been capable of moving from region to region. My guess is that they would have been.

        – Laird

    1. And yet, in the decades since Temple’s book, none of the debunkers ever noticed or mentioned the parallels to Buddhism, which uphold Griaule’s descriptions as a legitimate, known – in fact classic – cosmology. Somehow that falls somewhere far short of authoritative opinions, in my book.

      – Laird

  13. You can’t prove languages are related just by looking for remotely similar words. You have to document regular sound changes from one to the other; this is the central method of historical linguistics.

    For example, in modern German, a shift occurred from a t sound to an s sound in certain word positions. Other Germanic languages, like English and Dutch, had already split off before this occurred, and so do not show the shift. Thus German words “essen” and “aus” are equivalent to “eat” and “out.”

    It’s easy to make unrelated languages look similar if all you’re looking for are vaguely similar words. Conversely, related words may not look much alike until you trace all the sound changes. But if you want to convince me that “Hoben” is “Cohen,” you’ll have to show that all the initial “h” and “k” sounds switched, and that all the intervocalic “b” and “h” sounds switched. It wouldn’t affect just one word; there would be a consistent pattern.

    1. You’re absolutely right, if your intent is to trace the etymology of a word from one culture to another. However, that’s not the case here. It’s perfectly legitimate for a Comparative Cosmologist to provide multiple points of evidence to demonstrate a likely correspondence between two cosmological symbols, two deities, two myths, and so on. So now imagine that you have two gods – one named Amma and the other Amen – who hold the same relative positions in their cosmologies, share the same icons, perform the same acts, bear the same relationship to other deities in their respective cosmologies,whose names are explicitly equated in other languages and carry matching second meanings.

      My contention is that the evidence is enough to suggest a correspondence between the deities. Now, would anyone seriously argue that there is no reasonable relationship between the names?

      – Laird

  14. They are primitives with no written language and a great deal of outside contamination and were hoping they stay the way they are???? I’m glad my people advanced before this inane attitude took hold.

    1. If the Dogon and Buddhist cosmologies were originally a match and either one had changed significantly during the intervening centuries, they would no longer be a match for one another. If they were originally different, it’s nonsense to suggest that they could have each changed independently in just the right way so as to present such a close match today. The reasonable conclusion is that neither system changed significantly over a period of many centuries.

      – Laird

  15. If you base your theories of language and cultural relationships on comparing single words and word fragments you can “prove” any language is intimately related to any other language.

    For example, the Japanese word for name is “namae”. Just look at that! It’s obvious that “name” and “namae” are just variations on the same word, so Japanese must be descended from ancient Anglo-Saxons who somehow wandered to Asia, or perhaps the entire English language and culture was derived from ideas imparted by a secret society of Shinto priests living underground in Yorkshire. (You never heard of them because they’re secret, see?)

    I knew a guy who was quite sure that Japanese must be related to his native Hungarian, IIRC because they both had a lot of word forms with “shta” endings.

    TheDonna, your link was apparently suppressed by the Great Academic Conspiracy. Would you mind reposting it? That sounds interesting. I was aware of the Graeco-Buddhist history of Gandhara, now northern Afghanistan, but not of Buddhism making its way to the Middle East or North Africa.

    A last thought: I’m more likely to accept someone from some academic specialty as an authority on software development than the other way around.

    1. I wanted to clarify for Clifton that – in no case – are my Dogon word comparisons based on a pronunciation and single meaning. At minimum, they are based on a pronunciation and at least two logically-disconnected meanings (which is the way the cosmology was apparently designed). The chances of coincidentally finding a match for all three – AND within the context of an outwardly similar cosmology – are, in my estimation, close to nill.

      Also, the goal here is not to prove a relationship but to demonstrate the likelihood of one. If I can do so with virtually every word in the cosmology, then I have a strong basis to argue that the cosmologies are a match.

      – Laird

  16. Awful interview.

    * To our knowledge, there was no significant ancient “Buddhist” settlement in North Africa (some merchants? Probably. A small community in some trading centre? could be, but we don’t have any proof of it. Bigger settlements? could be, but it is more difficult and we don’t have absolutely any clue about this kind of settlement)

    * No one knows for sure the origin of the Dogon people

    * … so, when you read something like “In fact, the Dogon are known to have migrated to their current location from a region of North Africa that was a known home to ancient Buddhism”, you have a clear idea of the kind of guy you’re dealing with.

    And, of course, as has been pointed out, the “linguistic” arguments are nonexistent.

    The Dogon are a pretty interesting bunch of people. When I was (much) younger, I was amazed by a short film featuring a Dogon hunter shooting in the bush using a Dogon-made flintlock with Dogon-made gunpowder. It’s a pity to see such a culture treated in this dismal way…

  17. Really? The Dogon and the Sirius companion star thing again?

    This is an embarrassing entry to find on one of my favorite web sites. I expect more from you, Boing Boing. Try to pull it together, OK?

    1. You know, the controversy seemed interesting enough and the ostensibly debunking evidence flimsy enough that I decided to devote a couple of decades to actually tracing the evidence, and laying it out as clearly as I could in book form. What I discovered is that Buddhism attests that Griaule’s cosmology is a wholly legitimate form, that it is correct in its details as Griaule reports them, that the Dogon words and meanings are each affirmed in the Egyptian hieroglyphic language, and that their cosmological references are upheld in the cosmologies of culture after ancient culture.

      I found that Sagan’s suggestion that a modern visitor brought the questionable Sirius references to the Dogon cannot be correct because it doesn’t explain the fact that the Dogon use ancient Egyptian words to explain them.

      I found that Van Beeks’ conclusion that the Dogon priests fabricated a cosmology for Griaule cannot be correct because the system matches Buddhism. (The University of Chicago published my article declaring that in their academic journal Anthropology News in April 2007.)

      All of this seemed to me to be well worthy of reporting.

      – Laird

      1. Sir, I just want to thank you for the style and content of your replies here. Your manner in the face of such a wide range of criticism reflects very well on you, and on your research.
        Beyond general interest and a hope to learn more, I have no opinion in the matters raised here, but your posts have won you a supporter.

        1. jnab – I just wanted to thank you for your kind words. As you can imagine, my field of study is one in which many people have strong opinions and outlooks. To prepare myself for that, early in my publishing process I hired a top Egyptologist as a consultant – in fact, one who largely disagreed with many of my interpretations. I paid him to challenge any interpretation I had made that went against his beliefs as an Egyptologist. Over the course of several months he provided me with a great deal of good insights and material, some of which modified my views and some of which did not. But in the end, I felt that I came out of the process qualified to defend my outlook.

          – Laird

      2. What I don’t seem to see (and sorry if I’m unaware) is a plausible explanation, then, for how the Dogon came to observe the companion star. So, leaving the linguistics aside, we seem to be left with weighing Sagan’s (and others’) explanation in comparison to WHAT? Can you specify a hypothesis of how the Dogon came to acquire this astronomical knowledge?

        1. Like many ancient cultures across the world who credit knowledgeable teachers for having brought them civilizing skills, the Dogon priests claim to have received the Sirius knowledge as part of an instructed civilizing plan. In other words, they learned it from someone who knew it. Adrian Snodgrass writes that the most sacred of Buddhist symbols were deemed to have been given to humanity by a non-human source. The Egyptians claim to have received their written language as a gift from their gods.

          In the case of Dogon cosmology, knowledge of Sirius constitutes the mere tip of an iceberg of apparently correct scientific knowledge preserved in their cosmology with no outward sign of how it might have been acquired. When it comes to question of how matter was formed, the Dogon concept runs directly parallel to quantum physics, string theory and atomic theory. Likewise the Dogon have a seemingly scientific understanding of biological reproduction.

          My experience while exploring these questions in terms of the cosmologies of many different cultures is that – at bottem – the knowledge is consistently credited to ancestor/teachers or ancestor/gods.

          – Laird

          1. Nice attempt! At least now we’re in the domain of the testable (as opposed to the reply that Laird Scranton supplied me).

            Two things:
            1. Last I checked Assyria (where the Nimrud lens was found) is in Mesopotamia. Not Africa. Umm, doesn’t that matter?

            2. Looking at the Nimrud lens, I would have to wonder if it would be much help at all in seeing distant objects clearly. Indeed, the info I gathered about it seems to indicate that those who found it and have looked through it wonder if it’s a lens of any kind and think that it might just be a nice piece of decoration.

            In any case, it’s simple to test: point it at Sirius and see what you see. Put the highest quality secondary lenses on as needed. If you can see the dang companion star, then at least we have “plausible” evidence that the ASSYRIANS “MAY” have seen the companion star. Note that is is far from actual evidence that the DOGON did see such a thing. (Of course, the Nimrud “lens” is a valuable piece of archeological material and I would hope the British Museum would not trot it out to evaluate silly ideas like this one.)

            But please note that the expert, Mr Scranton, you’ve chosen to bring to us on Boing Boing thinks that this knowledge of the companion star came to the Dogon via oral transmission from past civilizations who themselves get this knowledge from a supernatural power (“gods”). And indeed if you dig a little bit you’ll find that he would claim that the Dogon had all kinds of detailed scientific knowledge (e.g. the structure of DNA) from such sources. Give me a break.

            Aren’t there exciting things perhaps closer to reality, and hard-working, unknown experts devoted to them, that you could use your Boing Boing position to bring us?

          2. I’m not sure how to reply to this. There is no mention of the Nimrud lens in any of my work.

            – Laird

          3. That’s because I was replying to Avi Solomon, who was trying to rescue your lack of mechanism by invoking this Nimrud lens.

          4. My approach to explaining apparent Dogon knowledge has been to begin each interpretation with an unequivocal statement on the part of the Dogon priests, then work to confirm that statement. So short of the Dogon themselves having claimed use of the Nimrod lens, my method likely wouldn’t allow it.

            – Laird

          5. One great disservice done to the cause of science was, in my estimation, Carl Sagan’s misapplication of the Occam’s Razor rule, which suggests that – when trying to choose between two otherwise equally matched competing theories, we should prefer the simpler of the two. Sagan often took it one additional step when addressing controversial theories, by proposing an often seemingly ad-hoc explanation for a result, characterizing that explanation as being in some way “more likely” than the theory in question, and then unilaterally anointing his own new explanation.

            An example of this is Sagan’s suggestion that modern visitors brought the Sirius knowledge to the Dogon – rather than simply attempting to evaluate the Dogon’s own explanation for self-consistency. Once you realize that the Dogon Sirius knowledge is given in terms of what can only be called ancient Egyptian words and symbols, that evidence works both to make Sagan’s proposal seem untenable AND lend support to the view of Dogon, Griaule and Dieterlen that this could well be a legitimate representation of ancient knowledge.

            Consequently, my tendency is to prefer an indigenous Dogon explanation, providing that it is directly supportable by other (non-google) evidence. And by the way, I had a devil of a time trying to get those Egyptian glyphs to come up on google.

            – Laird

          6. Once you realize that the Dogon Sirius knowledge is given in terms of what can only be called ancient Egyptian words and symbols…

            Again, why do you assume this means the Dogon had ancient knowledge of Sirius B, rather than the alternate explanation that they knew enough ancient Egyptian terms to translate new knowlege into? Based on your comment that similar words are found in contemporary tribes, the latter seems vastly more likely.

          7. You’re pulling a Carl Sagan. A little non-google research shows that the Egyptians have the same references as the Dogon, using the same words. So it’s pretty clear that either the Egyptians, the Dogon or both (perhaps one and the same at that time) acquired it in ancient times. Or perhaps is seems more likely that the Dogon hacked the Egyptian dictionaries.

            – Laird

          8. Except the Egyptians didn’t know about the companion. In other words, the Dogon inherited their terms for Sirius from the Egyptians, and when they found out about the companion described it in the same terms. That’s consistent with any account of how they found out about it.

            As far as the self-consistency of the indigenous explanation, it’s normal to take autochthonous and revered ancestors with a grain of salt, as we’ve seen in our own history they tend to get warped or amalgamated together. That some ancient teacher brought the knowledge to them is consistent enough, but then that’s not too different from what Roxburgh and Williams said, since in oral societies a hundred years is often remembered as ancient enough.

            Inheriting the knowledge of Sirius B from what we call ancient civilizations, though, is not consistent because it hasn’t left the traces you would expect advanced astronomy to. I don’t just mean technology – the Egyptians and Buddhists didn’t have the records of the heavy companion or Galilean moons. So there’s actually less evidence for these being ancient teachings than there is for gods giving them writing, which at least stems from contemporary accounts.

            And yes, I’ll freely admit I would never take those accounts at face value either, but if the Egyptians had wanted me to they shouldn’t have written so much “consistent” accounts about things like pharaohs vanquishing whole armies single-handedly, or should have said something a clever ancient couldn’t make up. It seems like you want something to fit that bill, but it’s not here in this particular tradition.

          9. Actually, that’s arguably not true. Isis and Nephthys were paired in Egyptian cosmology and both associated with Sirius. So it’s quite arguable that Nephthys constituted knowledge of Sirius B.

            – Laird

          10. You can, and people have, read anything into any mythology if you’re willing to adhere to that kind of standard. Can we say the Greeks also knew Jupiter had moons because they said he had a cup-bearer, and understand star clusters formed from nebulae as both the Pleiades and Hyades have the same father? Answers of that sort are just reading back what you’d like to be the case. Regardless of whether there are similarities between the Egyptian and Dogon attitudes to Sirius, and it is now hard to trust you on that, there’s nothing here to even suggest the former had any special knowledge of it, unless you already convinced yourself they must.

          11. Your point is simply not true. Start with the understanding that – just as I’m able to correlate the two meanings of “Amma” to “Amen” in Egypt, I’ve done the same for virtually every term used in Dogon cosmology. (I’ve already cited examples of the close correlation of Dogon gods and mythical characters with Egyptian deities.) A little research shows that the Egyptians have direct or likely counterparts to virtually every last word, every last double meaning, every last concept and every last mythical character in Dogon cosmology.

            Unless despite all that you’re still willing to assign the commonality of meaning in just this one lone case to coincidence – the ONLY reason the words “atanu/atenu” mean “deputies” is because of the characterization they have been given as “deputies of Sirius” in the Dogon cosmology. If the Egyptians have that reference, then – given the wealth of other likely correlations – they surely understood Sirius on the same terms as the Dogon. All of the other Dogon evidence supports this view.

            Realize also that the term “atanu” comes as a part of the explanation of a Dogon tradition of placing large stones on a plateau to represent important stars in their cosmology – one that we can again tie directly to Egypt.

            There’s very little “reading back” going on here. As is my primary intent, I’ve simply laid the Dogon values side by side, head-to-head with the Egyptian values and pointed out in as polite a way as I can that they offer a REALLY, REALLY close match.

            – Laird

          12. I’m not trying to be unreasonable. I’m pointing out that there are two things here:

            1. Do the Dogon inherit many traditions of Sirius from Egypt? I don’t know enough to discuss this, but it makes sense.
            2. Does this mean the Dogon’s surprising knowledge of Sirius’ companion is from ancient Egypt? This point is a clear no.

            The second needs some other justification, but the only evidence you’ve offered that Egyptians had such a tradition is that they have other similar traditions – which only works if you assume the Dogon couldn’t build on them – or extremely interpretation-based things like Isis being one of many gods who has a mate. You really can’t see why neither are compelling reasons to believe a tradition was established several millennia before the first unambiguous accounts of it?

          13. One main thrust of my books is to demonstrate – primarily by way of side-by-side comparison as I have done with the Amma/Amen example above – that the Dogon and Egyptian cosmological references correlate. My purpose is not primarily to show that the Sirius references in specific correlate (many do) but rather to show that each of the key features of the cosmologies correlate. More than that, it’s clear to me that Dogon cosmology provides a framework within which a large number of the seemingly variant Egyptian references fit. The point is, that if we want to make sense of the Egyptian references, Dogon cosmology offers us a viewpoint from which to do so.

            When it comes to Sirius, the Dogon share the same calendars as ancient Egypt, including one in which the first day of the year is tagged to the rising of Sirius. The Dogon associate their ancestor/teachers with Sirius – the Egyptian word for teacher is a homonym for their name for Sothis/Sirius. Griaule claims awareness on the part of the Dogon of at least two stars in the Sirius system, one of which is a bright sunlike star whose brightness masks a second dark dwarf star – Egyptian mythology associates Sirius with the star goddess Isis, who is said to have a sister Nephthys, hailed in one Egyptian hymn as “Mistress of the Night concealed by the light….” Some researchers see correlations between the Dogon Sigi festival, which is based on Sirius, and the Egyptian Sed festival. Much as the Dogon week of five days is half of the Egyptian 10-day week, the Sed festival recurs in a period that is half of the Dogon Sigi cycle. This cycle is the orbital period of the two Sirius stars. Within the context of other Dogon/Egyptian word correlations, the Dogon word Sigi presents a good correlate to the Egyptian “skhai”, which means “to celebrate a festival.”

            The Dogon Sirius references are given within the context of a much larger, much more complex cosmology. The implication is that, if the Egyptians can be shown to have virtually all of the same cosmological elements and words, it’s fair to claim that they shared the same cosmology. As an analogy, if we can show that an unknown animal had a tail, two ears, four legs, a wet nose, was friendly to man, and it barked, then we are on comfortable ground to conclude that it was probably a dog.

            – Laird

          14. When you say that I assume that the Dogon couldn’t build on their traditions,that’s not true. I say that the match to Buddhism shows that neither one has built on the tradition in any significant way for many centuries – otherwise, they wouldn’t still match.

            – Laird

          15. My wife Risa just reminded me that she learned by the third grade that there’s no point a person can make that someone else can’t simply respond with, “No it isn’t”.

            – Laird

          16. It always surprises me, when discussing these topics with ostensibly knowlegeable people – people who claim to be dedicated to their subject – how very much more invested they seem to be in finding a rationale to disregard it,than to actually explore it with any kind of open mind!

            Even if, in the end, it turns out that I have gotten aspects of my Dogon/Egyptian studies wrong, there are clearly important insights to be potentially gained by exploring the parallels.

            – Laird

          17. In order to accept that Isis represents Sirius, a person has got to agree to play a kind of game with the cosmology. This one is called, “Right now when I say goddess, I mean star.” Everyone seems to accept the notion that Isis represents Sirius.

            Now the cosmology says that Isis has a sister Nephthys. I say to myself, “OK, if we’re still playing ‘When I say goddess I means star’, then the cosmology has just told me that there’s a second Sirius star.”. So I pull out my astronomy book and – sure enough, there’s a second Sirius star.

            I also expect that the cosmology will not offer me a new piece of information without also offering me a way to corroborate it (such as all the second cosmological word meanings). So next the cosmology tells me that Nephthys is dark and that you can’t see her because of the light. So I pull out my astronomy book again and I learn that astronomers have difficulty seeing the second Sirius star because of the brightness of the first star.

            So does the Isis/Nephthys relationship prove that the Egypians knew about Sirius B? Absolutely not! Does it suggest that they did? Absolutely!

            What I don’t understand is how a traditional researcher can accept that Isis represents Sirius, THEN turn around and categorically deny that Nephthys could represent Sirius B! You can’t get to the first conclusion without tacitly accepting that Stellar Goddess = Star.

            One other point of comparison. Imagine that you have a friend who can quote virtually every line from Blazing Saddles, mimic the voices, and so on. Is it reasonable to assume that they were familiar with the movie? My books show that the Egyptians can quote virtually every line from Dogon cosmology.

            – Laird

          18. Look at it this way. There’s also nother star in the same constellation as Sirius, called Adhara, which is actually one of the twenty brightest in the sky but appears nothing much next to Sirius. Another that suffers in its glare is Mirzam, a moderately bright star the Arabs called its herald. And of course there are plenty of fainter stars very near Sirius that are hard to see ones it had risen. How did you decide Nephthys must be the invisible Sirius B, and not one of these other optical companions?

          19. Please remember, my field is comparative cosmology. I have spent a great deal of time correlating cosmological concepts, words, symbols, myths and deities of the Dogon to likely counterparts in ancient Egypt. The processs is to begin with an explicit statement of the Dogon, then support it with comparable evidence from Egyptian cosmology.

            The Dogon say explicitly that there are at least a pair of stars in the Sirius system. The Egyptian claim that Isis/Sothis had a sister Nephthys seemingly supports (does not prove, and clearly does not contradict) the Dogon claim.

            You could argue that the reference was to another star, but – again – you would have to produce evidence that the Dogon thought this was so.

            – Laird

          20. My remark “You could argue that the reference was to another star, but – again – you would have to produce evidence that the Dogon thought this was so” is true only if you planned to follow my methodology.

            Clearly, if you could show conclusive Egyptian evidence that Nephthys represents a star other than a second Sirius star, that one comparison to the Dogon would fall down.

            – Laird

          21. What does system mean? Does it mean what it does to modern cosmologists, a gravitationally bound pair of stars, or does it mean an asterism, something well-recognized the world over? How did you decide?

          22. In the question, “What does system mean?”, you may be getting too literal.

            Think of comparative cosmology this way: Consider that I’m simply testing whether I can use the words, symbols, myths and concepts of the Dogon to make predictions about what I’ll find in Egyptian cosmology. And so, one by one I go through the Egyptian references: Creation from water … OK check! A hidden god whose name can also mean to grasp or hold firm, pronounced like Amma….OK check! A jackal who symbolizes disorder in another “World”… OK check! A canid who serves as judge…Check!

            Eventually, after checking off a whole litany of symbols, words, concepts, deities and so on, I come to Sirius. The Dogon describe two Sirius stars. I know that in Egypt, Sothis/Isis is Sirius. Is there any evidence in Egypt of a second Sirius star? Ah, yes, there’s second stellar goddess named Nephthys who is defined as Sothis/Isis’s sister…OK check.

            Again, have I proved that Nephtyhs represents Sirius B? No. Within the context of the many other correlations that seemingly coexist is the existence of Nephthys as sister of Sothis/Isis consistent with the Dogon notion of two stars? Yes!

            – Laird

          23. You see, the simple fact that Snodgrass’s Buddhist cosmology presents such a close match for Griaule’s Dogon cosmology implies that neither could have changed significantly over a period of many centuries. And THAT implies that we can use each to validate and affirm the other. So if we have a questionable Dogon reference we can cross-check it to Snodgrass, and we can cross-check it further to the words and concepts in the Egyptian hieroglyphic language. If both are in agreement with the Dogon, in my view we have a lock on meaning.

            – Laird

          24. There is another quite important demonstration that the Egyptian understanding of Sirius was a match for the Dogon. The Dogon refer to the belt stars of Orion using the term “atanu”, which means “deputies.” In Dogon cosmology these stars are seen as deputies of Sirius. The Egyptian term for deputy is “atenu.” Clearly the Egyptians understood Sirius in substantially the same way that the Dogon did.

            – Laird

          25. The proof for these being ancient meanings lies with the concept of a Wheel or Chariot associated with Orion. This symbol is central to the Dogon understanding of cosmology and appears in similar form in ancient culture after ancient culture. Those like the Vedics who had chariots since around 3000 BC refer to it as a chariot – those such as the Hopi Indians who did not have chariots refer to it as a wheel. The mere fact that the Dogon refer to it as a chariot implies that the Egyptians may have been aware of chariots – likely by way of India – long before the first actual preserved example of a chariot in Egypt.

            If the symbolism were more recent, we’d have to explain how it could be that the same symbolism became implanted in all these other ancient cultures.

            – Laird

          26. I don’t think it’s simply Carl Sagan’s suggestion. Burnham’s Celestial Handbook is where I’ve seen Dogon knowledge of Sirius B mentioned before, and it mentions I.W.Roxburgh and I.P.Williams as supposing it was introduced by an explorer. This is based on their knowledge of Jupiter’s moons, an easy telescopic target someone of the time would use to show off their astronomical knowledge, and the like.

          27. And again, it seems completely senseless to consider alternate explanations BEFORE carefully exploring whether the indigenous Dogon explanation is self-consistent. Again, a little careful research shows that it is.

            – Laird

          28. Each time I agree to do an on-line interview, I realize that I’m deliberately putting my body of work for review by an entire world of respondees, many of whom have the specific knowledge to effectively critique and/or potentailly dispute each of its various points. In fact, that’s one key reason to periodically do the interviews – as a way of demonstrating which points hold up. The realization is that not only is the work up for extreme scrutiny, but also each individual sentence – sometimes each word – I choose to use while discussing the work.

            My expectation is that – over the course of twenty years of research, and if my audience is truly as knowledgeable as I hope – there will surely be some amendments to make. If I come out the other side in the position of potentially having to change as little as one or two supporting sentences in my presentation, then I feel that the interview has done its job and the significant aspects of the work have stood up pretty well.

            And so, with that, I’d like to invite specific questions (one at a time) regarding any of the main points of my thesis. Does anyone think my assessment of Sagan or Van Beek’s challenges to Griaule is wrong? Does anyone have a basis to challenge my correlation of the Dogon cosmology to Buddhist stupa cosmology based on Griaule and Snodgrass’s models? Have I sugggested any Dogon/Egyptian correlation that someone would like to take exception with?

            – Laird

          29. So I’ll take that as a “no” to my question as to whether you have specific insights or evidence to contradict my main points.

            – Laird

          30. -The Nimrud lens is not a decoration but indeed a lens. And yes the Ancient Egyptians aka “Africans” knew how to make lenses too. See
            -I humbly suggest that the presence of advanced artifacts where they were not supposed to be in time may serve as a corrective against the conventional narrative of western scientific progress. The British Museum would definitely not want to try out a “silly” experiment that might support a contrarian hypothesis.
            -You also assume that advanced technological artifacts need to leave material traces. Who knows if a Dogon Leonardo had observed the optical characteristics of a dewdrop and rigged up an “organic” telescope using plant cutin, water, twigs and twine? We’ve been a very long time on this planet – long enough for very weird things to have happened.
            -Natural sight might be more acute than we think – here’s an example in the other direction:
            -Laird did not suggest an ET hypothesis in the interview. A rouge band of philosophers like Moses, Pythagoras and Siddhartha would be sufficient to jump-start a “peace-corps” effort:)
            -I’d be very happy to hear your suggestions for “hard-working, unknown experts” to interview. Laird (who’s been very civil in his replies) has shone some light into neglected terrain. He’d be the first to welcome rigorous study of the Dogon cosmology, something almost totally neglected by the academic establishment.

          31. Natural sight might be more acute than we think…

            If this is still about the companion to Sirius, you do know how hard it is to observe, right? It was observed in 1862 using a telescope with lenses 1 1/2 feet in diameter, and only after someone had figured out it was there looking at the more conspicuous proper motion of the star. Which is itself something so subtle that ancient Greeks would argue things based on its absence, although they or their predecessors were keen enough to notice precession.

            In short, it’s not an easy telescopic target like normal double stars or planetary moons. I would be surprised if Legolas could have seen it with Newton’s telescope, made after good optics were available, let alone something cleverly made from worse material. And if he did, this one faint star would not have been his best discovery.

            As another point, Burnham notes the Dogon have a tradition that this companion is made of a substance heavier than all on earth, which could never be lifted, matching our idea of it as a white dwarf. If that’s indeed so and not an exaggerated report, it would argue against an independent discovery because that’s not something you can see at all. There are lots of little white stars, and we only think this one is special because of spectroscopy and lots of astrophysics.

          32. Notwithstanding the existence of lenses in ancient times, my method requires that before we propose it as a solution, we need some kind of clear indication from the Dogon themselves that it could be a possibility. In the absence of that, in my opinion we’re simply making stuff up.

            Far more than any culture I’ve studied, the Dogon retain a clear sense of what their own myths and symbols mean, how those symbols and myths interrelate, and how they – the Dogon – came by their knowledge.

            The Dogon priests explicitly attribute their cosmologic knowledge to teachers, as do the Buddhists, as do the Na-Khi, the Maori, and to some degree countless other cultures who assign their civilizing skills to godlike ancestor/teachers. As I’ve said, even the Egyptians believed that they had acquired their written language from gods.

            I realize that, when it comes to reliability, some researchers consider the testimony of ancient cultures to be akin to the testimony of a four-year-old. But if a group of nursery school students were the only witnesses to the abduction of their teacher, and all independently reported that the perpetrator was a tall, thin, red-headed man with a beard, my contention is that the police should be out looking for a tall, thin, red-headed man with a beard.

            Why in the world should be look elsewhere for a solution BEFORE we carefully explore the solution consistently put forth by the cultures themselves?

            – Laird

          33. As an explanation of my method when it comes to comparing the Dogon and Egyptian cosmologies, imagine each as a kind of rack upon which you can hang various component elements. On the Dogon rack we might first place – top and center -the Dogon creator god Amma, whose name refers to a “hidden god” and also can mean “to grasp, hold firm, or establish.” In the same spot on the Egyptian rack we place the Egyptian creator god Amen, whose (according to Serge Sauneron in “The Priests of Ancient Egypt”)shares the same iconography as Amma; the name Amen refers to a “hidden god” and can also mean “to grasp, hold firm, or establish”. As an example of the kinds of additional supporting evidence that can be applied to confirm this correlation is the knowledge that the names Amma and Amen are explicitly equated in the languages of various African tribes such as – if I recall correctly -the Mande and Bantu.

            Following this pattern, we continue to lay out a conceptual map of cosmology on the Dogon rack. What we begin to notice is that each element that we hang on the Dogon rack provides a “space” in which to hang a likely corresponding element of Egyptian cosmology. For example, in one Egyptian tradition the creator god performs a masturbatory act. Likewise, the Dogon god Amma performs what is characterized as a masturbatory or incestuous act. Amma evokes eight “ancestors” as paired opposites, much as the eight paired Ennead deities are evoked.

            The parallels continue down the line – a jackal who symbolizes disorder in a “Second World” or “Underworld”; a canine who serves as judge between “good and evil” or “truth and error”, and so on.

            After lengthy efforts to compare and correlate the Dogon and Egyptian elements, we see that Dogon cosmology defines a framework into which the various Egyptian elements fit.

            NOW, as we go, the Dogon give us key cosmological words like Amen that carry at least two distinct meanings, separated logically in such a way that knowledge of the first meaning will not reasonably allow a person to guess the second meaning. We correlate each of these to Egyptian word that are pronounced similarly (allowing for the acknowledge fact that no one know with certainty how any Egyptian word was pronounced) and tag the word to its associated symbol on each rack.

            The above is an abbreviated and generalized description of the process that I have applied in my studies when correlating Dogon, Egyptian and Buddhist cosmologies. Please note that there is no google involved.

            – Laird

  18. two things:

    this guy is featured heavily in the ‘documentary’ series “The Pyramid Code”, currently available via netflix streaming.. I am a little embarassed to admit that I watched the whole thing, as its definitely a steaming pile of sorts.

    also, and to me more interestingly, the other night I stumbled upon this video of a free climber ascending a cliff above a dogon village – – some of the ‘granary’ structures are shown and mentioned, as well as the 800-yr-old ruins of a lost ‘pygmy’ culture, situated 200 meters up the cliff face!

    1. Thanks for the link to Catherine’s video. I hadn’t seen it since it came out a good 2 decades ago.

  19. As someone who originally posted mostly due to the coincidence of first hearing about the Dogon twice in the span of a few days as outlined above; I wish to say thank you to the happy mutants who have commented to de-bunk the post, and also that I was pleasantly surprised to see the interviewee ably defend himself against the de-bunkers.

    I’m certainly not going to research this myself, but I appreciate hearing both sides here on my fave website :)

    Mr. Scranton, can you elaborate on The Secret Life of Plants claims of the Dogon’s belief that the star orbiting Sirius is the seed of creation? Whether or not they have intuited its orbit, the claim of it being life’s origin doesn’t seem to match anything in Western science. I don’t really care, personally, but I’m curious as to why THEY believe it. Or was it just Hollywood assertions?

    1. My studies suggest that one key purpose of ancient cosmology was to make us aware that events that transpire in the macrocosm (“above” us) correlate to those in the microcosm (“below” us). According to the Dogon, the correlation is between a tiny coiled structure called the “egg of the world” – a likely counterpart in science to a Calabi-Yau space – and a stellar bubble. Toward this end, great effort was put into pointing us to an effectively invisible stellar bubble called Barnard’s Loop – a spiraling birthplace of stars that surrounds the belt stars of Orion. Its dimensions are 440 light years by 280 light years – the same dimensions as the Great Pyramid in cubits.

      The Dogon refer to Barnard’s Loop as the Chariot of Orion, because, when imaged, it looks like the wheel of a chariot in which Orion the Hunter is standing.

      Barnard’s Loop was the by-product of a super-nova – perhaps the same supernova that created Sirius B. In fact, the belt stars of Orion are defined by the Dogon as “deputies of Sirius” (the Dogon word is “atanu”, the Egyptian is “atenu”).

      The upshot of all of this is that Sirius B, at the time it became a supernova, “seeded” this region of space and produced many of the stars that populate our area of the universe.

      – Laird

  20. In that chapter, the only substantial reference to Africa other than the title seems to be this line about Indians in Alexandria:

    The Syrian writer, Zenob Glak, wrote of an Indian community, complete with its own religious temples, on the upper Euphrates River in modern-day Turkey to the west of Lake Van in the second century BCE, and the Greek ex-patriot, Dion Chrysostom (40 – 112 CE), wrote of a similar community in Alexandria

    In Chrysostom’s discourses, I find this in his address to the people of Alexandria:

    For I behold among you, not merely Greeks and Italians and people from neighbouring Syria, Libya, Cilicia, nor yet Ethiopians and Arabs from more distant regions, but even Bactrians and Scythians and Persians and a few Indians, and all these help to make up the audience in your theatre

    Are there references I’m missing here? The transmission of Buddhism to Africa is otherwise implied by Berzin in that chapter as a consequence of the presence of Buddhists in the Arabian empire, which ultimately expanded into North Africa. But I’m not even sure we’ve got Buddhism in North Africa at all here, let alone echoed in Mali!

    1. I also enjoyed this chestnut:

      “The Tarikh-i-Tabari, a tenth century reconstruction of the early history of Islam written in Baghdad by al-Tabari (838 – 923), speaks of another group of Indians present in Arabia, the Ahmaras or “Red-Clad People” from Sindh. These were undoubtedly saffron-robed Buddhist monks.”

      … undoubtedly? I am fully able to doubt it!

  21. So the first difficulty lies with finding a western source that could have credibly given this information to the Dogon couched in ancient Egyptian words. Moreover, many of these same words are known to exist in the languages of other African tribes, so we would then have to explain how they came to be adopted in those languages.

    The second half explains the first. The western source didn’t have to give the Dogon anything in ancient Egyptians, because they were still local words. The Dogon simply translated into their own terms. Why wouldn’t this possibility be considered?

  22. The Dogons also knew about the four moons of Jupiter and the halo around Saturn. They did not, as far as I can tell, know about the planets Uranus, Neptune, or any of the asteroids, even though these are much easier to find than Sirius B and certainly than determining its orbit. This by itself argues that they have remembered what was neat discoveries were mentioned to them, rather than inheriting the records of keen observers.

  23. @Zora Please take positive action: petition your local university to send more anthropologists to the Dogon. Griaule worked for decades in the field with the Dogon before earning enough trust to be given access to some of their esoteric oral traditions.

    @Anon #37 Absolutely. The Three Hares symbol is another fascinating example of cross-cultural transmission along the Silk Road:

    @jxeat My apologies – though Cory is also know for his Fortean tendencies:)

    @Mirko Hopefully this can satisfy your documentation requirements:
    “Now it is conquest by Dhamma that Beloved-of-the-Gods considers to be the best conquest. And it (conquest by Dhamma) has been won here, on the borders, even six hundred yojanas away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni.”
    Asoka’s Shahbazgarhi Rock Edict #13

    1. Apology accepted, I guess.

      Forteanism (as far as I can tell): Where people are interested in exciting questions but not in the answers, if they’re boring.

      At least, then, can we get some new nonsense to ponder and not re-hashing of decades-old nonsense?

  24. Oh, yeah, Ashoka claims to have sent an embassy to Egypt to preach Buddhism. Surely this is a rock-solid proof of the existence of a “home of ancient Buddhism” in North Africa…

    … Avi, nobody denies the existence of (scarce) contacts between India and the classical world. We know for sure that there were contacts and some classical writers display a certain knowledge of Buddhism. What I’m arguing against is the idea that does exist a region in North Africa “that was a known home to ancient Buddhism”. Simply put, there is not the least trace of a Buddhist presence in North Africa. Not even the acknowledgement of the arrival of Ashoka’s embassy (in the classical world, big surprise, many ambassadors did not arrive at their destination, and many emperors claimed to have sent embassies which never left home). Nothing.

    We have however now a good idea of the place where an “author of several books and articles on African and Egyptian mythology and language” takes his data: Google clippings. Incredible as this may sound, the above-seen confusion between Timbuktu and Delhi seems the source of the remark about the “home to ancient Buddhism”.

    Sorry, but there is no other way to put it: the “facts” supplied in the interview are in good percentage gibberish.

    1. Yes, you’re absolutely right that turning to google was the wrong reference to illustrate my point in this case.

      – Laird

    2. It’s also true that, although there are references to pre-Islamic Buddhism in Africa, there are not as many as I have believed, and so I may not be justified in promoting that point in connection with my Dogon studies.

      – Laird

    3. The Spice trade and cosmopolitanism go hand in hand. Don’t discount Emperor Asoka’s reach. FYI Shahbazgarhi is near Peshawar in Pakistan and I assume you know about the Buddha’s effigies in Afghanistan. Another vector for the transmission of Buddhist teachings westward is Manichaeism:
      Also, I wouldn’t dismiss something as “gibberish” without reading the primary sources, especially as you insist on scholarly references. A smart reader of this interview would do well to check out Marcel Griaule’s “The Pale Fox” from the library.

  25. One main thrust of my books is to demonstrate – primarily by way of side-by-side comparison as I have done with the Amma/Amen example above – that the Dogon and Egyptian cosmological references correlate. My purpose is not primarily to show that the Sirius references in specific correlate (many do) but rather to show that each of the key features of the cosmologies correlate. More than that, it’s clear to me that Dogon cosmology provides a framework within which a large number of the seemingly variant Egyptian references fit. The point is, that if we want to make sense of the Egyptian references, Dogon cosmology offers us a perspective from which to do so.

    When it comes to Sirius, the Dogon share the same calendars as ancient Egypt, including one in which the first day of the year is tagged to the rising of Sirius. The Dogon associate their ancestor/teachers with Sirius – the Egyptian word for teacher is a homonym for their name for Sothis/Sirius. Griaule claims awareness on the part of the Dogon of at least two stars in the Sirius system, one of which is a bright sunlike star whose brightness masks a second dark dwarf star – Egyptian mythology associates Sirius with the star goddess Isis, who is said to have a sister Nephthys, hailed in one hymn as “Mistress of the Night concealed by the light….” Some researchers see correlations between the Dogon Sigi festival, which is based on Sirius, and the Egyptian Sed festival. Much as the Dogon week of five days is half of the Egyptian 10-day week, the Sed festival recurs in a period that is half of the Dogon Sigi cycle. This cycle is the orbital period of the two Sirius stars. Within the context of other Dogon/Egyptian word correlations, the Dogon word Sigi presents a good correlate to the Egyptian “skhai”, which means “to celebrate a festival.”

    The Dogon Sirius references are given within the context of a much larger, much more complex cosmology. The implication is that, if the Egyptians can be shown to have virtually all of the same cosmological elements and words, it’s fair to claim that they shared the same cosmology. As an analogy, if we can show that an unknown animal had a tail, two ears, four legs, a wet nose, was friendly to man, and barked, then we would be on comfortable footing to surmise that it was a dog.

    – Laird

  26. “So does the Isis/Nephthys relationship prove that the Egypians knew about Sirius B? Absolutely not! Does it suggest that they did? Absolutely!”

    This statement encapsulates why I think your reasoning, as you present it here, is flawed. Ask the question differently: if you didn’t know from modern astronomy that Sirius B existed, would the Isis/Nephthys relationship make you want to ask an astronomer to search for a dark companion to Sirius?

    In fact, 2/3 of stars are in multiple star systems. Would that suggest to you that the ancients who spoke of stars in terms of gods with mates were therefore aware that stars usually come in multiples? Or could it just be a coincidence that they thought of gods in terms of what they knew about humans, who have mates, and that when we think of pairs, mating comes to mind?

    I am also curious, is your research based on your reading of Griaule, Dieterlen, Snodgrass, et al., or have you done your own work among the Dogon? I am gleaning that it is the former, so forgive me if this next question is presumptuous… But couldn’t the deep connections between Buddhism, Judaism, and Egyptology and the Dogon cosmology have been introduced by Griaule and collaborators? Surely, Griaule was well-versed in these traditions. Could he have kept that compartmentalized, so that while gathering all this information from the Dogon, he never introduced his own knowledge into his subjects’ beliefs?

    I would not be skeptical that ancient religions shared many themes, but as a former astronomer, I find the scientific claims very questionable. I also have been trained to be suspicious of patterns, because people are good at finding them where none existed.

    Oh, and regarding an earlier comment, it is very unlikely that Sirius B was produced after a supernova. The energy involved in a supernova would require that the core of a star burn to iron, and the explosion would leave either a neutron star, black hole, or nothing at all.

    1. In response to endstar’s question about whether the Buddhist references could have been introduced by Griaule, the favorable comparison is to the expert knowledge of Adrian Snodgrass, who is widely recognized as a leading authority on Buddhist architecture and symbolism, and has devoted an entire career to acquiring that knowledge. Griaule’s biography fails to mention any extended period of Buddhist study. To my knowledge, no one associated with Griaule ever suggested a relationship between the Dogon and Buddhist cosmologies. For that matter, over the course of fifty years from 1957 until 2007, not a single Dogon researcher knew enough about Buddhism to recognize the match. What Griaule presents as insider (priestly level) knowledge of Dogon cosmology, Snodgrass presents as insider (guru level) knowledge of Buddhism. Snodgrass’s book was published some 2 decades after Griaule’s death.

      So you could argue that Griaule was the source of the Buddhis knowledge, but you’d have to explain when during his lifespan he found the time to attain Buddhist guru status.

      I’ve also been able to correlate many of the Dogon cosmological drawings and nearly all of the Dogon cosmological words to ancient Egyptian words. We could argue that Griaule was the source for these, but then we would have to show when he had time to acquire an Egyptologist’s level of knowledge about these symbols and words. ALSO, many of the same word exist in the languages of other African tribes such as the Bantu and Mande. By what method can we postulate that Griaule managed to implant these words in THOSE langauges?

      – Laird

  27. My apologies, the last comment questioning whether Griaule could have introduced ideas into Dogon cosmology appeared to be submitted anonymously, rather than under my account name…

    1. On the contrary, endstar. Think about what you’ve just said. You accept without question that when Egyptian mythology says “Isis/Sothis” it can mean “Sirius” – in other words, you agree – at least in principle – with validity of the stellar goddesss/star symbolic pairing. When the mythology tells us that Isis had a sister Nephthys, clearly based on that accepted interpretation we have grounds to think that it refers to another star. It’s certainly possible that the symbolism refers to something else, but it would be up to you to support that suggestion with evidence from the mythology. Mine is supported by the Isis/Sirius pairing you already agree with.

      In case I misspoke, the Dogon priests suggest that the supernova that created Barnard’s Loop may also have been the source of the Sirius stars.

      – Laird

      1. If Barnards Loop was created by a single massive O-type or B-type star, then Sirius B (which is a B-type star) could theoretically have created the stellar bubble that is Barnard’s Loop. In Dogon cosmology, the two (Sirius stars and Barnard’s loop) and the notion is one of a common source.

        – Laird

        1. Yeah, except Barnard’s Loop is about 1600 light-years away in Orion, and Sirius is 8.6 light-years and not moving in a direction away from Orion. Plus Barnard’s loop is about 2 million years old, and Sirius B has an age of about 125 million years. Yes, there are uncertainties on both these figures, but not that much. It doesn’t take much research to know they’re not physically related, and frankly identifying the Dogon circle with Barnard’s loop seems like a lot of wishful thinking to begin with.

          As far as Nephthys being Sirius B, of course it’s consistent from a comparative cosmology persepctive. My point is simply that many things would be, but if you want to establish something as unlikely as ancient Egyptians having knowledge of a companion that takes modern optics to see, you’ll want more than just saying this one line of evidence can’t rule it out.

          After all, Isis herself wasn’t always Sirius; we see her identified with Eltanin among some Egyptians themselves, and the name has apparently also been used for Mirzam, though that might be a Western mistake. Many other names have undergone similar changes. It it so unreasonable, then, to be concerned whether “the two stars of Sirius” are still the same pair?

          1. Again, the point is to identify the aspects of Dogon cosmology that correlate specifically to the Egyptian based on multiple points of evidence, and in cases where the Egyptian evidence is is less than explicit, affirm that Egyptian references do not outwardly contradict the Dogon view.

            The Dogon priests correctly understand that Barnard’s loop is a kind of bubble formed when stellar wind causes stellar matter to encircle. They understand that it is a birthplace of stars. They understand that it is calculated to eventually burst. If their belief in a relationship between Barnard’s Loop and the Sirius stars turns out to be wrong, I would be surprised simply based on what I see as their track record so far when it comes to correctly understanding creational processes. But I can’t categorically prove that their view is correct, and can’t positively contradict your view that it isn’t.

            Right now there are a number of points of science that the Dogon affirm to be true, but modern science is not yet in a position to firmly validate or refute. These include descriptions of how a simple act of perception can transform the wavelike behavior of matter to particle-like behavior. Dogon descriptions of the descending components of matter are in general agreement with atomic theory, quantum theory and string theory, which themselves await reconciliation by our own science. So far, based on my experience, my money is on the Dogon.

            – Laird

          2. If their belief in a relationship between Barnard’s Loop and the Sirius stars turns out to be wrong, I would be surprised simply based on what I see as their track record so far when it comes to correctly understanding creational processes.

            Well, our science says it is wrong, as you can easily find. Some people will find reasons to uphold the Bible or Qu’ran when they disagree with our findings, or read in whatever it takes; and you are making it sound like you have only picked a more interesting template for literalism. But at least this will give you something to see how trustworthy their legends are, if you are willing to test that.

          3. As to whether the identification of Barnard’s Loop is correct for the Dogon reference, they characterize it as a spiral, and use the belt stars of Orion as a reference to its location. They refer to it as ‘The Chariot of Orion’. When imaged, Barnard’s loop looks like the wheel of a chariot in which Orion the hunter is standing.

            So they’ve got the shape right, the location right, the description right, the properties of the structure right, the description of how it is formed right, and characterize its overall appearance right.

            What else do you require in the way of identification?

            – Laird

          4. I’m really interested in your initial reaction to the Barnard’s Loop reference. Here we have an example of apparent Dogon knowledge on a level commensurate with their disputed Sirius references. Furthermore, in this case we can demonstrate that it represents ancient knowledge because the selfsame image of a Chariot or Wheel associated with Orion is known to have existed in ancient cultures as widespread as India, China, New Zealand, North America and Peru.

            The Dogon priests count it among the very most important and significant references in their cosmology. If the Dogon tradition of placing stones on plateaus to represent stars correlates to the Egyptian tradition – as suggested by Robert Bauval’s OCT theory – then the Egyptians considered the Barnard’s Loop reference to be important enough to merit the construction of the three large pyramids at Giza.

            Likewise, in the Kaballah tradition, the concept of the Chariot is considered to be of such importance that the insiders who eventually learn about it are explicitly forbidden to discuss it with anyone of a lesser initiated status than themselves.

            Now, on even the off chance that these kinds of references could reflect real astronomic knowledge, why in the world would a serious-minded, dedicated astronomer consciously choose NOT to invest a little time exploring that possibility?

            As the Steely Dan song goes – and no personal slur meant to you – “The things that pass for knowledge I don’t understand.”

            – Laird

  28. I responded to your point that the Dogon had mis-identified Barnard’s loop, but you haven’t answered my question as to how.

    – Laird

  29. “Now, on even the off chance that these kinds of references could reflect real astronomic knowledge, why in the world would a serious-minded, dedicated astronomer consciously choose NOT to invest a little time exploring that possibility?”

    I am no longer an astronomer, but that might be an advantage (I don’t have a career in the field to jeopardize) for what I am about to propose:

    Although it is a necessary first step, a good scientific hypothesis does not stop at explaining how things we already know about fit together. It has to predict new things for which to look. In that spirit, would you be able to put together a list of ancient astronomical understanding that could predict things that modern astronomers can look for? For instance, would you be able to collect stories in which gods associated with particular stars have mates, so that I could search the astronomical literature to determine how often the stars are actually multiples? Then, given the fraction of stars that are in actuality multiples, I could compute the likelihood that ancient astronomical knowledge is more accurate than guessing. Or, perhaps you could come up with other ideas, based on the mythology around supernovae, planets, comets, etc.

    I am skeptical based on what I’ve read so far (like I said, nothing in current astrophysics suggests Sirius B was involved in a supernova, and I think it would be more productive to view the correspondences between cultures in terms of memes and convergent evolution). Nonetheless, if you want to influence science, you have to come up with good arguments to convince the skeptics. I think that the kind folks at BoingBoing could facilitate putting us in touch if you wanted to pursue this seriously…

    1. I think your suggestion would be an interesting one for someone to pursue.

      I’ve chosen another approach for several reasons:

      First, Egyptian cosmology is known to have changed over time and between various cult centers, and the references we have to it are based on fragmentary and sometimes self-contradictory texts.

      So instead, I based my studies on the explicit statements of Dogon priests, partly as a way of distancing the symbolic interpretations from my own influence and that of other researchers.

      I then chose a complex scientific topic that included many different stages (the structure of matter)- one that should be unknowable to ancient cultures – and set the Dogon statements and drawings side-by-side with comparable statements and diagrams given by Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene. (Since some of this includes science that relates to string theory, it precludes Sagan’s suggestion that it could have come from a modern visitor sometime prior to 1956.) The number of stages in the process preclude any reasonable claim that the agreement could be coincidental.

      I then worked to correlate each Dogon term (with its dual meanings and other supporting evidence) to comparable Egyptian terms. I felt this to be ample demonstration that the Egyptians understood the key concepts of cosmology in very much the same way that the Dogon do.

      Using that approach, then all I would need from the fragmentary Egyptian evidence of cosmology would be generalized agreeement.

      Rather than attempting to show by way of statistical anaalysis that the Dogon were probably right, I wanted to demonstrate by direction comparison that the Dogon actually were right about the science.

      – Lard

  30. I’m surprised this is still going on… I give you great points for politeness and civility, Laird. (Everyone actually.)

    Anyway, here are a couple essays on linguistics giving an excellent explanation, with multiple examples, of why it is horribly misleading to attempt to find language relationships via matching apparently similar words.

    Deriving Proto-World with tools you probably have at home.

    How likely are chance resemblances between languages?

    TL;DR: If you computer-generate completely random and unrelated “languages”, you can expect 10% or more of their vocabularity to match. If you compare any pair of real human languages known to be unrelated, you can expect to find 1000 or more apparent cognates by chance.

    BTW, I think I’m still waiting on any cite for N. African Buddhism that’s more substantial than “Well, it could have happened.”

    1. I’ll state again that, if mine were linguistic studies and I was attempting to trace the etymology of a word in one culture from another, I would agree that the rules of linguistics would take sway. However, this is a study in comparative cosmology. I also completely agree that simple agreement between phonetic values and a single meaning is NOT sufficient to correlate words in two cultures. I’ve describe previously the kind of “bundled package” of values that attend these words, and my intent in each case is to validate all elements of the package.

      No one disputes the correlations that traditional researchers have made between deities of various ancient cultures based on the role a god or goddess plays in a myth, the specific acts they are credited with, the icons that attend the god or goddess, the star they are symbolically paired with, or the familial relationship they share with other gods and goddesses within the same mythology.

      If it is also true that the two compared deities share markedly simlar names, no serious researcher – other than a linguist – is going to deny the likelihood that the words also relate within the context of the cosmology. UNLESS you were willing to make the (in my mind) questionable claim that all the other elements relate, but the similarity of the names must be mere coincidence.

      Now consider that in cases such as Amma/Amen, it is well documented that the words are explicitly correlated to one another in African languages other than the Dogon, and so are explicitly correlated by speakers of the language.

      Also, it is simply NOT true – except perhaps in the very narrow view of a strict linguist, perhaps -that the only evidence that can be legitimately brought to bear when comparing two words is linguistic evidence. My experience has been that in any other context or discipline, four or five points of correlated evidence – such as I provide for these Dogon and Egyptian words of cosmology – supports the fair contention of a relationship.

      – Laird

    2. My contention that Dogon cosmology is a form of Buddhism is supported by the direct comparison of the system of cosmology presented in Adrian Snodgrass’s “The Symbolism of the Stupa” with that presented in Marcel Griaule’s “The Pale Fox”, both of which run to hundreds of pages.

      The editorial staff of the University of Chicago’s “Anthropology News” academic journal found that claim credible enough to publish my article first stating the claim (“Revisiting Griaule’s Dogon Cosmology”)in their April 2007 issue. So far, no academic researcher has disputed it.

      And last I checked, the Dogon live in North Africa.

  31. I commend Mr. Scranton for the calm and even affable manner in which he handled this interrogatory, which on occasion seemed to veer into an inquisition. While I do not question anyone’s right to be skeptical about his claims, some in this forum have chosen to be dismissive without having read any of his books, and without possessing any knowledge of Dogon history and culture or the related fields of Egyptian cosmology and mythology that he uses to support parts of his thesis. I have read Scranton’s books and studied the works of Griaule and Deterlen. And while I question some of their contentions and remain inadequately informed about others, I have learned to keep an open mind when it comes to the African oral tradition and what it is capable of retaining and transmitting. I also am mindful that we are woefully ignorant of the history of ancient Africa. The discovery of Nabta Playa in Southern Egypt, perhaps the greatest astronomical observatory of the stone age, stands as proof that we are merely “upgrading our ignorance” on this subject with each passing decade.

    I am grateful for the research Mr. Scranton is doing. Given its complexity and innovative forms of inquiry, errors and mistakes are bound to occur. But I am more than willing to follow him on his journey of discovery into Dogon cosmology. And I thank Avi Solomon and boingboing for publishing this interview that sheds a little more light on this path.

    1. Many thanks to Anon for the kind words of support. I realized coming into a field of study that crosses the boundaries of several other disciplines that it is the inherent nature of the work to step on toes. Likewise, many of the statements given by the Dogon priest to Griaule – when taken at face value – lead to controversial propositions.

      The way that my argument is structured:

      The validity of Griaule’s Dogon cosmological form is affirmed by Snodgrass Buddhist cosmology, as are the symbolic shapes and meanings evoked by the cosmology AND the sequence in which they are evoked.

      Although the Dogon words are given in a different language than the Buddhist, the concepts and their paired meanings affirm each other. Meanwhile, the Egyptian words affirm a second time that the meanings Griaule presents belong properly with the pronunciations and drawn shapes he assigns them to. These with some tolerance for differences in expression allowed – for example,where the Buddhists pair the concepts of “essence” and “substance”, the Dogon pair “mass” and “matter”. Where the Egyptians pair “good” and “evil”, the Dogon pair “truth” and “error”.

      In essence, we have three separate sources in very substantial agreement with one another about what can only be called a shared system of cosmology.

      – Laird

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