Seriously: The Dogon and Sirius?

You don’t have to watch too many Fantasy Channel (formerly known as the History Channel) specials on ancient astronauts before you’ll be told about the primitive African Dogon of Mali and their “advanced astronomical knowledge” — bestowed, of course, by extraterrestrials. This amazing proof of ancient ET visitation is the subject of a popular ancient astronaut book, The Sirius Mystery, by Robert Temple.

Unfortunately, the belief that ETs gave the Dogon advanced astronomical knowledge is bunk, er . . . paleobabble. How do we know? Well, there are the weakness (read: selective and somewhat manipulative presentation of the data) sketched here.  And then there are these two articles on the Dogon and Sirius B (one, two) from Blacks in Science: Ancient & Modern (1983). They discuss a Peruvian dictionary compiled by a Dominican monk, Domingo de San Tomas, in 1560, that contains a description of a Quilpi, an optical instrument for looking into the distance. The abstract of the second article notes:

“With an instrument only as powerful as binoculars, Sirius B should be visible, except that it would be flooded by light from Sirius A. Perhaps they had a more powerful telescope, but even without one more powerful than binoculars, information on Sirius B could be obtained.”

No need for ETs; just some very smart people for their time.