Archaeological Controversy

Archaeology may in some people’s eyes may seem like an old romantic world of adventure and unending stream of mystery and discovery. One might even gather from the past the image of some stuffy camel riding, pitch helmet wearing toff giving the native help a ruddy good rollicking and a clout round the ear hole while in the process overseeing the plundering of priceless artefacts, and thus returning home to the applause of the establishment and tea and crumpet with the queen. Archaeology today has come a long way over the years since images like that.

In the modern age it has become a highly scientific discipline, occupied more with the details of past cultures than some ones idea of a fantastic discovery. But an air of mystery will always surround archaeology in some people’s minds, often to the point of fixation. Past mysteries or unexplained circumstances often attract the attention of many people with a taste for science fiction, adventure, and the bizarre or simply with the aim of making as much money as they can and a write up in the National Enquirer.

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People such as these often create out of this world stories and theories about the past to the benefit their own views. Such examples involve people from all walks of life including the British journalist Graham Hancock who claimed a civilisation existed under the Antarctic ice sheets 12,000 years ago. His view on this is that colonists spread from here to the rest of the world, colonising areas of Bolivia and have even been responsible for the building of the Sphinx. Hancock puts this together by using farfetched geological observations and isolated finds of artefacts.

Ignoring genuine archaeological arguments, such as where are the traces of these civilisations to be found around the world. Been an ardent believer in his own theories, Hancock, being a crafty writer, has managed to put out a top selling book that reads like an Agatha Christie whodunit? The butler did, and appealing to those who will always believe in the slightest of slightest possibilities (Haughton 2007, 105). A more controversial example in recent years is that involving the case of the Bosnian Pyramids in the former Yugoslavia.

The Bosnian Pyramids relate to Visocica Hill and the surrounding area in the Bosnian town of Visoko. This town was once the medieval capital of Bosnia and has a rich history, covering a range of periods in archaeology and is situated 30 kilometres northwest of the capital Sarajevo (www. natgeo. com). This first came to the attention of the international media in 2005 following a campaign promoting what many professional experts say was a flawed idea, that the area contains a group of manmade pyramids (www. rystalinks. com). The person responsible for the controversy is Houston based metal mogul Semir Osmanagic. He has painted a picture of himself among the international media, that he has been independently carrying out studies of the Maya pyramids for nearly 15 years and has managed to put out a book regarding his supposedly 15 year research into the matter named “The World of Maya” in which he states the Maya are descendants of aliens from Pleiades and Atlantis (www. metafysiko. com).

The 49 year old is so certain that pyramids exist in the Visoko valley that he has managed to secure funding for his claim with the taxpayer footing the bill. Responding to the growing interest, in 2007 the Federation of BiH gave almost 100,000 Euros to employ a group of experts and workmen, headed by the archaeologist Lidija Fekeza to join the project (www. balkantraveller. com). He also claims because of his sharpened eye for archaeology resulting from his many trips around the world, the structures cannot be a freak of nature (Haughton 254, 2007).

Though the claim of pyramids may seem strange, what makes it even stranger is the claim that they are in the region of two and a half times the size of the examples in Eygpt and that they predate these example by some 8,000 years. Osmanagic, being no archaeologist, geologist or historian has put himself across as a sort of an “Arthur Daley” styled used car salesman when it comes to his claim (Feder 2010, 44). The result of this is a frenzy of pyramid mania in Bosnia, with over 400,000 people visiting the area since 2005.

Souvenir stands litter the area flogging everything from T shirts to wooden pyramids to cater for the busloads of tourists arriving to see what all the fuss is about. Osmanagic has whipped up so much national feeling within Bosnia that anyone who questions the truth is labelled anti Bosnian (www. smithsonianmag. com). He also claimed that a group of archaeologists from around the globe were involved in the dig which was to begin in 2006.

These claims were later reputed by the archaeologists, including the Canadian archaeologist Chris Mudigler who’s name cropped up in a report stating he was a foreign expert lined up to work on the excavations. Mudigler stated he never endorsed or agreed to work on the project (www. archaeology. org). Recent reports from the area also stated two volunteers, who are said to be archaeologists have jumped ship on the project, stating “We still don’t know about the date, we don’t have any artefacts, we don’t know who and why built up this construction. We don’t know what kind of construction it is. (Ibid). The investigation relating to the claim state that there is no evidence of the presence of any pyramids in the area and some scientists have accused people in the Bosnian government of actively supporting the claim stating, that it is no more than a “cruel hoax on the public with no place in the real world of science” (www. metafysiko. com).

Osmanagic has called Viscocica Hill the Pyramid of the Sun and two hills that lay nearby, identified by satellite imagery, the pyramid of the moon and dragon as well as two more, one named the pyramid of the earth that have been named in reports (www. osnianpyramids. org). The media have quoted Osmanagic as saying that they were constructed by the Illyrian culture of the Balkans as early as 12,000 BC. But during an interview with the Nexus reporter Phillip Coppens back in 2006, he did an about turn on the statement saying he was misinterpreted and saying though the Illyrians were most definitely responsible for the structures while the inhabited the area between 12,000 and 500 BC, the original date of 12,000BC may be inaccurate (www. crystalinks. om) He claims that the excavations have revealed evidence of building blocks along with tunnels in several areas of the hills in which he claims linked the pyramids together. Mr Osmanagic also thinks the findings around the hills of Viscocica will have further repercussions for prehistory. He compared the size of the biggest pyramids in the regions of Egypt and Mexico and stated they were all built by the same culture and the Bosnian examples being the conclusion of this enterprise (Ibid).

Osmanagic then changed his view again by stating that the dating method used may not be 100 percent reliable and stated Visocica hill could represent the mother of all pyramids, which claims would be confirmed by the further study in of sacred geometry and the use of numerology of so called messages left behind in the pyramids (Ibid). His examination of the reputed Sun Pyramid revealed it to be some 722 feet high. If this was to be the case it would be nearly a third larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza and this would make it the largest structure of its shape in the world.

Osmanagic also states that miners from the nearby Tuzla mine found ventilation shafts in the underground areas, stating that it shows the planning that went into the structure and also the level of engineering that the builders possessed (www. bosnianpyramids. org). Also two large man made sandstone blocks in a circular shape were discovered in a tunnel and were estimated to have a weight of around five tons each. These blocks were claimed to be in the process of been removed and samples were to be sent for analysis. It is claimed that these example represent the first archaeological artefacts found (Ibid).

It is also claimed the man made blocks were recovered from the northern side of the pyramid. One of his experts stated that these are not natural but manmade and brought from quarries in the area for the purpose of its construction. It is suggested due to the blocks bean layered on top of one another that it represented the slopes of the pyramid and shows how the walls were created (Ibid). Semir Osmanagic has set a target for 2012 for the project to reach completion. This he says is to “break a cloud of negative energy, allowing the earth to receive cosmic energy from the centre of the galaxy”.

Also along with this claim he is pushing for his project to be listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site (www. crystalinks. com). These claims regarding the hills around Visocica, have been the subject of criticism from a wide range of experts who accuse him of nothing more than pseudo archaeological and scientific nonsense and damaging potential real archaeology. A statement from Penn University Professor Garrett Fagan comments “They Should not be allowed to destroy genuine sites in the pursuit of these delusions. It’s as if someone were given permission to bulldoze Stonehenge to find secrets chambers of lost ancient wisdom underneath” (Ibid).

Criticism also comes from Boston University’s Curtis Runnels, who is considered an expert in Greek and Balkan history. He states that between 30,000 and 12,000 years ago the area was in a period of a very cold environment with glaciations in part of the mountains. The only inhabitants were Palaeolithic hunters and gatherers who used caves and open air camps in the region. The evidence from remains included simple stone tools and hearths. Runnels concludes that these people could not have possessed the knowledge, tools or skills to build something of this scale (Danver 2011, 154).

Also the lack of evidence in the form of a large settlements or living quarters to house the workers who would have constructed the site. There is no sign of infrastructure evident such as a highly organised transport system for bringing in the necessary building materials along with any evidence of large areas, such as bakeries or kitchens to feed the massive workforce that would have been required (Feder 2010, 46-48). The former director of the Sarajevo Museum has also weighed in with concerns over the excavations destroying historic sites including the medieval royal capital of Visoki, saying the digging will destroy a national commodity.

Excavations carried out by archaeologists in an unrelated project uncovered valuable artefacts dating from the medieval period and this led to calls to tear up Osmanagics excavation permits (www. archeaeology. org). A letter to the editor of The Times in 2006 from Professor Anthony Harding the president of the EAA accused Osmanagic of been wacky and absurd. He also commented that all that was going on was sponsored looting and unauthorised development. After he visited the area he was quoted as saying “we saw areas of natural stone, with fissures and cracks; but no sign of any archaeology”(Haughton 2007, 254).

Also a geological team which investigated Visocica on behalf of Osmanagics foundation held a press conference in Tuzla to present their results. The members from the mining and geology section of Tuzla University concluded that the hill was of a natural geological formation, made from a layered make up and of varying thickness, and is representative of the processes in the post Miocene era (Haughton 2007, 255-256). Professor Vrabac, who is an expert in paleolgeology, states there are many examples of morphological formations in the Sarajevo and Zenica mining basin alone.

The report from the mining and geological department of Tuzla showed that the data collected from six drill holes is supported by the Association of Geologists of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Ibid). The theory regarding the tunnels that are said to connect the pyramids, one that was located next to an old factory and used to store its chemical materials, were believed to have dated from the medieval era and even the Yugoslav army had been aware of their existence. Official records even suggest they were known about even during the occupation by the Austro-Hungarians (www. alkantraveller. com). In 2006, the Egyptian Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass, who’s been instrumental in returning some of Egypt’s lost treasures, became associated with the project after supposedly recommending an expert in Egyptian pyramids, Aly Abd Alla Barakat to investigate the claims. After been contacted about these claims Hawass denied any knowledge of it and accused Osmanagic of false information. He also stated that Barakat knows nothing about Egyptian pyramids (www. crystalinks. com).

The reasons why the project has been allowed to carry on may be put down to the chaotic system that allows such amateurs to operate in Bosnia, and the fact that there is no powerful archaeological service in the country. The government has been accused by genuine archaeologists of turning a blind eye to the fiasco and when the director of the Bosnian National Museum was asked to share his views on the subject he summed it up by quoting “The government does not stop or tear down illegal buildings in the parts of the historic town of Mostar that are on the UN World Heritage List!

There is no effective law, anyone can do what he or she pleases” (www. natgeo. com). As a result of the pyramid controversy real archaeological work suffered for it. Funding from the government amounted to less than 100,000 dollars in the three years following the claim and genuine archaeological work has struggled because of it. While this may be the case with genuine archaeology, Osmanagics project has seen funding jump sharply, with large donations been raised and a promise from the government that further funding will be provided, which just happened to coincide with an election year at the time (Ibid).

Semir Osmanagic has managed to cause such a tide of controversy with his claims and as result has brought the reputation of a national government into question. The government’s role in the matter can only be seen as one of promoting pseudoarchaelogy as way of increasing tourist revenues and boosting the economy at the expense of genuine fact. The onus is on Semir Osmanagic to provide concrete evidence of his claim, in which up to now he has failed to provide. To prove an extraordinary claim one must produce extraordinary evidence and the only thing Semir Osmanagic seems to have produced is the perfect Pyramid Scheme.