Dogon science

In 1947, the Dogon council of elders and the most important priests gathered to reveal their expertise and vast scientific knowledge of the celestial world to two French anthropologists, shaking up the previously established eurocentric consensus that indigenous scientific knowledge in Africa was kept to voodoo dolls and shamanistic dances. Even still, when met with the vast array of calculations and calendrical records kept by these peoples, the West decided to chalk it all up to a European bringing this knowledge to them. However, this merely showcases the cultural divide between Africa and Europe specifically with regard to epistemology: the study of knowledge.

painting demonstrating the differences between european and african epistemological institutions in the 1940s
AI generated image with the prompt “painting demonstrating the differences between european and african epistemological institutions in the 1940s

Science is a relatively new thing in philosophy, specifically built around empiricism and hypothesis testing. A theory is formed based on our sensory evidence and, in more modern times, what we can gather from using technology. That theory is then tested and refined. But this process was the result of several centuries of argumentation and debate amongst theistic monks and priests in the church, philosophers in Greece and Rome, and polymaths in the Renaissance. Thus, the consensus in Europe became that science and religion necessarily cannot support each other, since each is fundamentally based on a different ideal: faith or evidence?

The European rejection of the precision of the Dogon peoples’ scientific findings because of their lack of technology is an unfounded one. Other civilizations, such as the Aztecs of Mesoamerica, had acquired an advanced understanding of astronomy through generations of observation and calculation, before the invention of technologies like the telescope. In fact, telescopic technologies existed far prior to common belief, as recorded first hand by the ancient. The other reason, perhaps, is that the West wanted to staunchly hold onto their belief in the separation between religion and science. In the case of the Dogon, the two were closely interconnected, as many aspects of Dogon daily life and religious ritual depended on celestial observations. It would make sense why scholars would be quick to dismiss their scientific rigor then, though not at all justifiable.

Perhaps that is why European anthropologists were able to bring themselves to make such outrageous claims as “is this not more likely than a visit by extraterrestrial spacefarers to ancient Egypt… ?”An uncomfortable feeling emerges when a century long held precedent towards knowledge and science is upheaved by another culture. The history of anthropology and science is unfortunately rife with this dismissive attitude, and is a symptom of a larger eurocentric worldview.

extraterrestrial spacefarers to ancient Egypt
extraterrestrial spacefarers to ancient Egypt





4 responses to “Dogon science”

  1. Elizabeth S Avatar

    It’s so sad how we as people tend to think or discredit the intelligence of those who were here before us. Great article.

    1. ensemblelearner Avatar

      Thanks 🙂

  2. pjhammon Avatar

    Another great post! Where do you get your AI generated images? Like, what link? I’d like to check it out.

    1. ensemblelearner Avatar

      Hi Peter! Thanks again. I use to make the images. I think nowadays they might leave behind a watermark in the bottom right hand corner?

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