Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Bosnian Pyramid: a Brief Summary

I

n the Spring of 2006, the self-qualified "archaeologist" Semir Osmanagic announced that he discovered pyramids near Visoko, Bosnia. And not just any pyramid, but the largest pyramid in the world. And not just any largest-pyramid-in-the-world, but the oldest largest-pyramid-in-the-world!

And throughout the remainder of 2006 through 2007, Osmanagic and his followers pursued an incredible hypothesis regarding what geologists have previously and since regarded as hills. The core hypothesis they hold is that the hills at Visoko are man-made pyramids created between 8,000 and 12,000 years ago, which they claim will "change the history of Europe and The World as we know it (Ahmetovic, 2007)."

If nothing else can be said, it must be admitted that the Osmanagic PR machine is good. The mainstream media jumped on the story, accepting at face-value what Osmanagic was claiming seemingly without consulting anyone in academia on the issue. Because of this, an interesting phenomenon occurred, one that even I fell victim to: there was tacit acceptance that something genuine was found since the media billed Osmanagic as a legitimate authority. They also implied that his methods were valid as well.

It wasn't long before science bloggers were pointing out some of the fallacies and I quickly realized the error of my assumptions as I reviewed Osmanagic's site and things just didn't add up. I initially assumed that since media sources like the BBC and The Economist were giving credibility to Osmanagic's "discovery," that there must be something to it. But with even my first post on the subject, I noted that one should be skeptical when comments like "nature does not make geometrical shapes" are used and it seemed strange that a researcher would make a direct appeal to the public rather than publish such a find in academia. This was, of course, before I knew who Osmangic was or what his qualifications (or lacks thereof) were.


Semir "Sam" Osmanagic is a Bosnian-American and entrepreneur from Houston, TX who is also an author, having written The World of the Maya (2005), which provides for some very outlandish ideas of the Mayan civilization, placing as their ancestors the Atlanteans (yes, of Atlantis not Atlanta, GA). The Atlanteans, of course, came from Pleiades –according to Osmanagic (Osmanagic, 2005):


These beings of Atlantis are to be found in various locations through-out Mexico – from Tula (north of Mexico City) and Oxkintok to Chichen Itza […] [t]he Mayan hieroglyphics tell us that their ancestors came from the Pleiades… first arriving at Atlantis where they created an advanced civilization […] [t]he Maya inherited knowledge from their ancestors at Atlantis and Lemuria (Mu).


Even in light of the skeptical questions being asked by those of more qualified authority through science blogs and publications, and even though there were some very rational and informed criticisms being offered, mainstream media continued to present the story as if it were a valid one. On October 27, 2006, ABC's Nightline, anchored by Martin Bashir, aired a segment in which Nick Watt reported on Osmanagic, interviewing him and allowing him to continue his PR push and his appeal to the public. In this report, Osmanigic was given several soundbites including, "If you've found stone blocks built by man, then it will be obvious for everyone that this is a huge man-made structure in the shape of the pyramid" (Watt, 2006).

Except that it hasn't been shown that "stone blocks built by man" have been discovered. Geologists recognize the features at Visoko as examples of orthogonal jointing and tectonic uplift. The very systematic, "ladder-like" pattern that I've seen depicted in some of the Osmanagic photos may be evidence of 90 degree rotation of tectonic stresses. The primary joints are created first by tectonic force, and then the tectonic stresses over time are applied in a new vector creating a new set of joints at 90 degrees from the original (Bai, Maerten, Gross, & Aydin, 2002). Imagine the force necessary to break a cracker in half, then half again in the other direction. Other claims of a similar vein by Osmanagic included that there exists a man-made "pavement," which is contradicted by the presence of geologic evidence once again. The "pavement" stones are more examples of tectonically influenced jointing and fracturing –the evidence is the presence of ripple-marks created before the tectonic events, when the sediment was just underwater. Needless to say, this sediment has been above water for millions of years –long before the evolution of hominids, much less hominids that were able to construct pyramids.

The Osmanagic team of mystery-mongers and the significance-junkies that follow them closely have gone back and forth in their efforts to "excavate" the site. Several geologists and archaeologists have visited since Osmanagic made his claim, and even before, and the professional opinions of those that are qualified to assess the site are that geology explains the curious features and that there is an archaeological significance to the region. It just isn't one that fits the hypothesis that Osmanagic has established. The archaeology of the area is of the Roman period and in genuine danger of being destroyed by the pseudoscientific actions of Osmanagic. While it was reported in June of 2007 that government funding for excavating the site was cut (Ljubić & Barić, 2007), Osmanagic's website (bosniapyramid.com) reported in August that "excavations were fully underway," but this is most likely on private lands using money fleeced from duped contributors.

Fraud and Deception?

There is also a hint of fraud or, at the very least, deception on the part of the Osmanagic team as they perpetuate their pseudoscientific claims. Alun Salt wrote about Grace Fegan (Salt, 2006), an Irish archaeologist whose name was initially listed as one of the professionals employed by the Osmanagic team. Unfortunately for Fegan, it appeared that Osmanagic not only drafted her name for his cause, he did so without informing her. Moreover, her email address link in the Osmanagic press release (according to Salt), wasn't hers, leaving the rational conclusion to be that there was someone willing to answer questions of her involvement by email on behalf of Osmanagic's team. There's also the matter of Dr. Ali Abdallah Barakat, the Egyptologist Osmanagic "consulted" with. In a letter to Mark Rose, the online editor of Archaeology Magazine, Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, stated (Hawass, 2006):

Mr. Barakat, the Egyptian geologist working with Mr. Osmanagic, knows nothing about Egyptian pyramids. He was not sent by the SCA, and we do not support or concur with his statements.


Other archaeologists, such as a specialist in Prehistory at the National Museum in Sarajevo named Zellika, have stated that Mr. Osmanagic is giving out false information. What can Mr. Osmanagic use to show the age of the "pyramid?" No archaeological materials have been found near the pyramid.

Ultimately Barakat's conclusions were that the site was not a man-made feature but it may be a hill that was subsequently shaped or modified by man. I don't think I've seen the Osmanagic PR machine point that out, but after spending 45 days at the site Barakat was quoted to say, "they are natural, completely natural," with regard to the sandstone blocks uncovered (Woodard, 2007).

Another possible (and probable) deception involves the rock with "inscriptions" that is claimed to be further evidence of a man-made pyramid. In an interview with Dr. Collette Dowell, Francesco Garufi quotes Dowell (Garufi, 2006) as saying:

This was the famous stone with the letter 'E' and other inscriptions on it. We were told by several scientists who first examined the tunnel with the stone slab, there were no inscriptions on it; they were added on at a later date.

One or two other pages at Circular Times, written by Dowell, report a similar story. I don't know who these "scientists who first examined" the tunnel are nor when they examined it –she does say that at least one was a geologist. But I do know that I've yet to see any qualitative analysis done on the alleged inscriptions by experts in epigraphy, rock art and petroglyphs. What is the status of the patina within the inscriptions as compared to that of other places in the same stone; or other stones within the same context; and so on.

The list of questions that a genuine scientist or archaeologist would have for Osmanagic's claims seems endless. Never are there details such as context and provenance. Never are there detailed analyses of phytoliths, pollens, carbonates, etc. Never are there site plans or stratagraphic sketches of the sites "excavated." Indeed, the very word "excavation" would only be proper at Visoko if used in the context of a construction site rather than an archaeological one since Osmanagic is using a backhoe to quickly shape the hill into his preconceived pyramid rather than small trowels, brushes and dental instruments to carefully and methodically remove the matrix in the slow, painstaking manner of real archaeology.

Archaeology vs. Pseudoarchaeology

Real archaeology begins with a research question and ends up wherever the evidence in the form of artifacts, features or the lack thereof takes it. Pseudoarchaeology, however, begins with a conclusion and only conducts that research which is guaranteed to support that conclusion. Indeed, most Pseudoarchaeologists do not excavate at all –Osmanagic, at first glance, would seem to be the exception. But as I said, he really isn't excavating in the archaeological sense.

Politics, Nationalism and Economy

Finally, it's worth noting that the Bosnian Pyramid debacle, which is still ongoing, appears to appeal more to nationalism and politics than it does to actual science. After all, Bosnia and Herzegovina is dealing with the double whammy of recovering from a war and rebuilding an economy. Not only are tourists desperately needed for a post-war economy in reform (the country's GDP dropped 75% in the 1990s), but the people are also in desperate need of cultural reasons to be proud. Critics of Osmanagic are quickly labeled by his followers as political detractors, or Serbians who just hate Croatians. Osmanagic is of Croatian descent and there's seems to be special disdain for Serbians who dare criticize Osmanagic and his followers.

The amount of information that exists on the Bosnian Pyramid debacle is enormous and could, perhaps, fill a book. There is much I'd like to have discussed such as the attempt to get UNESCO to visit and apply a World Heritage Site label to the region; the completely wrong claims about "geometric symmetry" and aligning "precisely with cardinal directions;" the local geology; the poor methodology of pseudoarchaeologists; and so on.

Perhaps I'll leave those for later, shorter posts.

Works Cited

Ahmetovic, S. (2007, September 20). Live in New York: Presentation on the "First European Pyramids". (The Archaeological Park: Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun, Performer) Florentine Room of the Radisson Hotel, New York, NY, USA.

Bai, T., Maerten, L., Gross, M., & Aydin, A. (2002). Orthogonal cross joints: do they imply a regional stress rotation. ournal of Structural Geology
, 24, 77-88.

Garufi, F. (2006). World's Largest Pyramid? or Hoax? (C. Dowell, Editor) Retrieved September 10, 2007, from Circular Times: http://www.robertschoch.net/Bosnia%20Melusina%20Editoriale%20Pyramid%20Robert%20Schoch%20Colette%20Dowell.htm

Hawass, Z. (2006, June 27). Personal Correspondance with Mark Rose. Retrieved September 9, 2007, from Archaeology Magazine: http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/osmanagic/zahi_hawass.pdf

Ljubić, T., & Barić, I. (2007, June 11). Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun Loses Funding. Javno .

Osmanagic, S. (2005). The World of the Maya. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press.

Salt, A. (2006, May 29). Bosnian Pyramids: Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Atlantis. Retrieved September 10, 2007, from History News Network: http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/25850.html

Watt, N. (2006). Ancient Pyramids of Bosnia? Many are Believers. Nightline.

Woodard, C. (2007). The Great Pyramids of ... Bosnia? The Chronicle of Higher Education, 53 (30), A12.


3 Epigraphic Artifacts:

afarensis said...

There are a lot of similarities between the Bosnian Pyramid fraud and this hoax about Early Paleolithic culture in Japan

Tim said...

Nice, comprehensive article - it's strange how the popular media went for this in such a big way, and for so long. I think I fell for the Japanese one quite recently, quoting it in a post, without recalling the guy posting his future finds in the ground - I'm not sure why the BBC still have it up on their site, though they report later on Shinichi Fujimura.

Irna said...

Hi,

just to let you know that the Bosnian scientist who told Colette Dowell that the "symbols" in the tunnel were recently carved is Nadija Nukic, Osmanagic's former chief geologist. She gave two weeks ago an interview to the magazine BHDani, where she confirmed that the carvings were recent, and made by a team worker during a pause. The worker himself wrote to the magazine last week, and said he had made them "for fun". So much for the "world's most ancient alphabet" -such was the claim of the Osmanagic team. Parts of this interview are translated here: http://irna.lautre.net/Nadija-Nukic-Osmanagic-has-driven.html

Regards, Irna

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