British

Archaeology

The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 92

Issue 92

January/February 2007

Contents

news

Ancient trading power near Inverness

Rare insights into a medieval city

Possible new neolithic enclosure on Orkney

Roman Colchester unveils more of circus

In Brief & Phase 2

features

Stonehenge Douai manuscript discovered
Christian Heck describes his surprise Stonehenge find, a new medieval depiction

Transit van excavation
Bristol students find more than bunk in an old Ford van

Are these the pyramids to revolutionise Europe?
Anthony Harding investigates date claims of 12,000 BC/BP near Sarajevo, Bosnia.

Among tombs and stone circles on Banc Du
A history of discover of Neolithic earthworks and causewayed enclosures

on the web

Recommended websites

letters

Views and responses

CBA news

Headlines from the CBA office

 

ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

features

The great Bosnian pyramid scheme

Semir Osmanagic, a US citizen of Bosnian origin, claims to have found ancient pyramids in Bosnia-Herzegovina whose existence would demand a total reappraisal of European prehistory. Anthony Harding went to look.

In January 2006 I was contacted out of the blue by an officer of EUFOR, the EU's protection force for Bosnia-Herzegovina, asking if the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) could help the archaeological community in the Republika Srpska (the Serb part of Bosnia) with vehicles for their work. This unusual request was followed by news that a gigantic prehistoric pyramid had been discovered near Sarajevo: did I know anything about it? I did not, but I was soon to learn.

In March a TV company approached me with more news about the pyramid, including the results of geophysical work on the hill in question that purported to show the existence of tunnels within it. I was directed to a website run by the organisers of the project, where fuller information was available. The force behind the project was one Semir (Sam) Osmanagic, an American of Bosnian origin described as an "author and metalworker", who was now devoting his time and money to his homeland. Apparently the "pyramid", for that is what it was stated to be, dated to around 12,000 years ago and was evidence of a hitherto unknown civilisation that was capable of erecting vast structures of this sort long before they became known in other parts of the world.

Since such claims obviously belonged to a fantasy world, I was inclined to ignore the affair; but when the Times published a news item on April 15, with little suggestion that the whole thing was a huge hoax and without having referred it to their archaeology correspondent Norman Hammond, I realised things were more serious. I wrote to the Times, and my letter was published on April 27. I and my colleagues in the EAA had already heard that the situation of archaeology within Bosnia was very difficult, with few resources available and little in the way of a legal framework to protect the national heritage. In the days following my letter, I was bombarded with requests for information. As a result, I decided that I would take advantage of a visit to Zadar, Croatia, in early June to drive on to Sarajevo to discuss the situation with professional colleagues there.

On our way down, Predrag Novakovic (EAA secretary), Sylvie Kvetinová (administrator) and I called in at the hill of Visocica, on the edge of the town of Visoko, and looked at the excavation trenches that had been opened. We did this solely in order to avoid the charge, already laid at our door, that we had condemned the project without seeing it for ourselves. As we expected, we saw areas of natural stone (a breccia), with fissures and cracks; but no sign of anything that looked like archaeology. The cracking in the rock was similar to many exposures we had seen in the past on natural rock formations, and did not look anything like a human construction. Geologists who have seen the site have said the same; the hill is similar in formation to many others in the Sarajevo-Zenica mining basin.

There was a press conference the next day in the Sarajevo Museum, called to draw attention to the plight of heritage protection in Bosnia. We were asked questions about only one thing: was the pyramid genuine? Had we seen it? Why did we not believe in it? Since the room was packed not only with journalists but also with pyramid supporters, we were treated with some scorn. The pyramid people soon started their own press conference outside, to which most of the reporters repaired. The following day's newspapers were full of it. Most dismissed the views of the "experts" as the result of our jealousy or minds closed to new ideas. One paper said that the whole thing had obviously been stage-managed by the museum staff.

Since that time, the number of "pyramids" in central Bosnia has multiplied considerably. The Visocica hill is the "Pyramid of the Sun"; apparently there is also a "Pyramid of the Moon" and a "Pyramid of the Bosnian Dragon". A Wikipedia article provides useful information on the development of the story (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosnian_pyramids). The official website is at www.piramidasunca.ba, but apart from photos there is little hard information there. Alternatives include www.bosnianpyramid.com. Most of the websites are filled with hype of one kind or another, so that it is quite hard to find out what is really happening.

Certainly the trenches we saw had been dug with care, and we had no reason to believe that the medieval site of Visoki, higher up the hill, had been damaged by the work. On the other hand, Osmanagic has stated that he wishes to find organic material in order to obtain radiocarbon dates, given the universal scorn with which the profession has greeted his datings so far. This presents us with a dilemma.

We would all agree that the taking of such samples would need to be done by trained personnel, who could vouch for the true stratigraphical context and ensure that the sample was not contaminated at any stage prior to its reaching the lab. Do we, as trained archaeologists, agree to take part in such work? Without the presence of an experienced person one would be very suspicious of any result that emerged; but those who agree to take part in any of the Visoko work quickly seem to find themselves billed as supporters of the project. Several websites record how some archaeologists unwittingly found themselves enlisted without their knowledge and certainly, had they known, against their wishes.

Why can't there be pyramids in Bosnia at 12,000 BC/BP?

This is a question that journalists are fond of asking. Telling them that Europe was in the late upper palaeolithic or early mesolithic (depending on what date is being suggested, and this seems to vary from month to month) does not get one very far. They respond a little better to being told that people living in the Balkans at that time were hunter-gatherers, with little in the way of fixed dwelling sites or other constructions. If they are still listening, one can go on to describe the research that archaeologists have done in the Balkan peninsula, which gives us a very good idea of what human communities were like 10–12,000 years ago. One may point to the work being done by Preston Miracle of Cambridge University in both Croatia and Bosnia, on both cave and open-air sites. This tells us a great deal about the people of the western Balkans in the late palaeolithic; their tool-kits, their living areas, and their food sources. It does not, however, tell us anything about pyramids or other monumental constructions. This does not absolutely exclude that they could have existed: but a manned landing on the (non-) planet Pluto in the next 20 years is more likely.

Add to this the sheer size of the Visocica hill: I guess it must be at least a kilometre across each side of the base. For comparison, the Great Pyramid of Giza measures around 230m square at the base and originally rose to some 146m in height; the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán has sides 225m long and is slightly over 70m high. Interestingly, the "pyramid" at Visoko is said to measure 220m along the sides. Since there is no obvious change in the topography of the hill it is easy to see where this figure comes from.

Now all this might be dismissed as harmless fun. Why not let rich expatriates come and indulge their fantasies if that is what they want to do? Why not let locals peddle trinkets showing pyramids and other symbolic items? Unfortunately there is a much darker side to the story.

Since the Bosnian war and in the new political order, each community has felt the need to reinforce its identity. Mostar remains a largely divided city, in spite of the huge sums poured in by the international community to rebuild the famous bridge and its surrounding buildings.

Visoko lies in the mainly Muslim part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Roman Catholic symbols and depictions of Croat war heroes have become widespread, even in areas populated by Muslims. In Muslim Bosnia, the search for a new past is equally strong, and the refusal of archaeologists to accept the pyramid as genuine infuriates the nationalist press and public. Bosnians who scorn it are vilified and called "traitors", while foreigners are treated to abuse and ridicule. (Before the furore arose, a search for my name on Google turned up a modest 50 or 60 hits; now you will find 100,000 or more! This is fame of a sort.) The staff of the Zemaljski Muzej in Sarajevo (in Austrian times the Landesmuseum, ie State Museum) – an institution of international importance, founded in 1888 – are in the front line. Zilka Kujundzic-Vejzagic, who has led the resistance, is a renowned scholar as well as a modest and unassuming person, but she was careless enough to be born to Croatian parents; not a comfortable situation in a predominantly Muslim area.

At the meeting we held with the professional community, we were given a bleak picture of the situation of archaeology in Bosnia-Herzegovina. There are fewer than 20 professional archaeologists in the whole country, responsible for site protection, rescue archaeology, museology and archaeological education. Their institutions are starved of resources – leaking roofs, no vehicles, no money for fieldwork, education or even basic museum curation. Worse still, since the break-up of Yugoslavia, there is no set of laws concerning the heritage and how it is to be dealt with, for instance in the planning process.

One hears frequent stories of deals between politicians and developers, even where archaeological sites are known about – and this says nothing about checking for sites where none is known. Annex 8 of the Dayton Accord laid down that property could be submitted to an international commission for designation as a national monument (though it did not specify how it was then to be protected). Such a commission does exist. Obviously it has much work to do before the legal situation can be considered anything like normal; and to fulfil the requirements of the Valletta Convention of 1992, which most European states are now attempting to integrate into their planning framework, will take a lot longer. In the meantime, as we were told, no one knows who has responsibility for what.

Of course there are positive aspects to the pyramid saga. Tourists are visiting Visoko and bringing money into the local economy; in an area with high unemployment, in a country ranked 98th in the world in terms of GDP per capita, this is no bad thing. The question I ask, and to which I have not yet received an answer, is: Why not channel this enthusiasm to some of the genuine sites, monuments and museums of Bosnia, which at present are suffering badly from neglect? Money has apparently been put into the pyramid project by the government, though whether at state, federal or cantonal level is unclear. Haris Silajdzic, president of the party for Bosnia and former prime minister, was quoted recently as saying, "Let them dig and we'll see what they find. Besides, it's good for business". What a pity he did not put his energies behind the cause of heritage protection in his country.

We were not able to help the Bosnian Serbs with vehicles, but we did meet some of their archaeologists and we learnt about their situation. It was sad indeed, on leaving the press conference in Sarajevo that day, to emerge from the building to find two sparkling new estate cars proudly bearing the symbol Bosanska Piramida Sunca, or Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun Foundation, dedicated to the cause of a fictional past for one of Europe's poorest and most conflict-ridden countries.

Here is a suggestion for Mr Osmanagic and his team. Paint out those words and that logo, and give the vehicles to the professional archaeologists of Bosnia. They really need your help.

Anthony Harding holds the anniversary chair in archaeology at Exeter University, and is president of the European Association of Archaeologists.


Official website of the Archaeological Park: Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun Foundation

From www.piramidasunca.ba

The High Representative of BiH [Bosnia-Herzegovina], Christian Schwarz-Schilling... met with foundation president and director Semir Osmanagic... and the mayor of Visoko Municipality, Munib Alibegovic... "We have a visionary here," said Mr. Schwarz-Schilling...

Source of Financing: International sources (International Fund for the Protection of World Heritage Sites, unesco, the European Commission for Culture), domestic sources (discretionary budgetary funds), foreign and domestic companies, private sponsors, discretionary funds for culture of embassies in BiH, etc.

Status of the Foundation: Independent, nonprofit and nonpolitical institution...

Phases Of Research Activity: ...2010: Constantly declare the... pyramidal complex the most meaningful monument of cultural-historical inheritance in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Stop Osmanagich NOW! Say NO to Masonic Bosnia!

From www.ipetitions.com/petition/NoPyramidsInBosnia.

Local warlords are undertaking an unprecedented con in the town of Visoko... uncritical media coverage... serves the purpose of diverging the Bosnian public's attention... [from] the current critical events...

The amateurish diggs [sic]... have destroyed numerous Neolithic or pre-Neolithic tombs... Several complete human skeletons... vanished from the public eye...

The Bosnian government at all levels systematically neglects... museums around the country... the rulers want to replace the nation's factual heritage with a fictitious one... sign the petition - ban the foundation!

Indiana Jones of the Balkans and the mystery of a hidden pyramid

From the Times, April 15 2006, by Nick Hawton

...watched by crowds of locals, journalists and the contestants in this year's Miss Bosnia competition, a team of archaeologists began excavating the so-called Pyramid of the Sun, hoping for one of the greatest finds in modern history.

Experts ridicule the notion... But there is just enough evidence to suggest that the experts could be wrong... The four sides of the Visocica hill have regular slopes of almost exactly 45 degrees, facing north, south, east and west exactly. "Nature simply cannot build such a perfect geometric shape", ...said Mr Osmanagic, who has spent 15 years researching the pyramids of Central and South America.

Alternative History: The World of the Maya

From www.alternativnahistorija.com/WMmain.htm.

Semir Osmanagich presents his book "The World of the Maya" as a galactic telescope by means of which cosmic harmony may be achieved. Having visited dozens of Mayan cities in Central America, the author arrives at the conclusions that it is in our future that "we should become planetary Maya with sophisticated technology which will harmoniously connect the frequencies of the Sun and our psyches..."

The European Association of Archaeologists

The EAA's aims were established in Ljubljana, Slovenia in 1994: to promote archaeological research, information exchange, management and interpretation of the archaeological heritage, proper ethical and scientific work standards, and the interests of professional archaeologists in Europe. It publishes the European Journal of Archaeology and holds an annual meeting (the next one will be at Zadar, Croatia, Sep 18–23 2007). In 1999 the EAA was given consultative status with the Council of Europe as a non-governmental organisation (NGO).

Membership of the EAA, open to all archaeologists, currently stands at 1,100 from 41 countries, and includes field archaeologists, museum curators, heritage managers, teachers and conservators. The EAA website (www.e-a-a.org) presently features support for professional archaeologists in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a dam threat to the Roman baths at Allianoi, Turkey and the M3 and the Hill of Tara, Ireland.

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