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visocica hill: a verifiable hoax? October 15, 2006

Posted by Brad Richert in science.

Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination – John Dewey

In October of 2005 a man named Semir Osmanagić announced that the 213-meter high Visočica Hill in Visoko, Bosnia-Herzegovina is actually a pyramid. Despite almost universal criticism among the scientific community, Osmanagić continues to hold fast his belief in the ancient pyramids of Bosnia. The condemnation of Osmanagić and his methods are not entirely unfounded yet the situation that both parties have found themselves is dangerous. Being outside the scientific community, Osmanagić has no qualms with ignoring scientific methodologies, yet his claim is one of a verifiable nature, or at least parts of it. Osmanagić has made many statements about his newly discovered hidden pyramids that are based on historical speculation rather than amateur observation. The scientific community, however, who has opposed Osmanagić’s claims, has trapped themselves into a corner if any such pyramids are discovered. While the battle between the science and the speculation continues, a simmering political and economic situation continues in the background. The problem with reducing politics and economics to the background is that is often denies the reasoning behind the pseudo-archaeological actions taking place.

Semir Osmanagić is a Bosnian who resides in Houston, Texas and considers himself an amateur archaeologist and independent pyramid researcher. In reality, Osmanagić has a political science and economic degree from the University in Sarajevo and holds a Masters degree in International Economy. He is, lo and behold, researching for his PhD in the Mayan civilization in Sarajevo.Mr. Osmanagić has thus been spending “15 years researching pyramids”. It is unsure whether this is the same “last 15 years” that he is said to be living in Houston. Nevertheless, upon visiting Visoko he concluded that the hills surrounding the Bosnian town could not be natural and therefore must be hidden pyramids. The visit, however, was an intentional request of a local museum director, Senad Hodovic, and was given permission by him to carry out a small-scale excavation of the site. In itself, this is not evidence of any wrongdoing, but it would be false to attribute the original idea of the Bosnian pyramids to Osmanagić. Hodovic had contacted Osmanagić after attending a promotion for Osmanagić’s new book on ancient civilizations. Since Osmanagić is a Bosnian-American and a pyramid researcher, it would make sense to contact him if one thought that there might be a possibility of hidden pyramids in the area. There are no reports of Hodovic contacting anyone else about the pyramids. Nevertheless, Osmanagić was definitely willing to carry out the excavation and speculate an elaborate theory. Since Osmanagić was not planning to strike ground until April of 2006, his “theory” was based on a combination of 15 geographic “anomalies” pointed out by geologist Nadja Nukic and his own preconceived ideas about ancient civilizations that are also based on speculation and unscientific methodology. Not only has Osmanagić claimed that there are, in fact, pyramids at Visoko, but that they were built by the Illyrian people at least before 2,500 BCE and as early as 12,000 BCE.

In order to prove his claims, Osmanagić set up the Archaeological Park: Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun foundation. Osmanagić is said to be interested mainly as an “initiator” of the project and plans to be at the Bosnian site for two of the seven months in 2006 for project guidance. There is a five-year plan for the research and reconstruction project, which is interesting to say the least. The project is calling for restoration of the top of the so-called “Pyramid of the Sun” before the “top” has even been discovered. The plan for 2006 commenced on April 14th which started with the excavation and mapping of the tunnels that had previously been discovered using radar. The ceremony was complete with an unheard of number of journalists, spectators and even Miss Bosnia herself. On April 15th, Osmanagić had started the geological survey of the next hill, which he named “Pyramid of the Moon”. By June the team that Osmanagić started claimed to discover man-made walls. The 2006 excavations are to be complete by October, and one can expect several more groundbreaking discoveries to take place in the next couple of months. Osmanagić claims that his job as an initiator was to establish the “expert teams” that will lead the excavations that will take place in 2006 as well as the next four years. The Pyramid of the Sun website describes these teams as “the leading experts in archaeology”.

The expert team that Mr. Osmanagić is reported to have assembled consists of two international experts, an unknown number of archaeologists from the University of Insbruck, University of Glasgow, and the University of Ljubljana. A team of young Bosnian archaeologists, including Sead Pilav, Silvana Èobanov and Saša Jankovič, will join this international team. While the official site makes no mention about the expertise of the Bosnian team since it is implicit that they are junior members, the international team is touted as experts. However, the “Pyramid of the Sun” website’s list does not reflect that of the “Archaeological Park: Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun” foundation’s website. The foundation, which is in charge of the excavations, and has Osmanagić has its chairman of the board and founder, does indeed have an extensive list of “experts”. Of the many “committees” that these experts are a part of, there are actually only 3 archaeologists: Silvana Èobanov from the University of Zadar, Saša Jankovič from the University of Belgrade, and Anne Handberry an American “senior archaeologist”. Two of the three archaeologists, Èobanov and Jankovič, were described in the aforementioned website as part of the young Bosnian team. Anne Handberry, however, appears in my research only as the author of “Thermoluminescence Revisited”, a book on thermoluminescence dating. She, however, is not listed as one of the experts on the previous site. The two experts mentioned were Richard Royce, an Australian, and Grace Fegan, from Ireland. Royce and Fegan have both denied ever visiting the site or agreeing to participate in the site. These are not the only discrepancies in the grasp for archaeological validity that the Osmanagić has attempted. He has also attempted to gain validity by attaching himself to Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, which has since been disputed.

Needless to say, Osmanagić has run into major conflictions with the scientific community. Like many pseudo-archaeologists, he seizes any possible scientific validity claims all while disregarding those who criticize his methods and theories. Osmanagić’s foundation has even created an “International Science Analysis and Advisory Committee” with a twofold task of directing the process of excavation, restoration, and long-term protection, as well as verifying the scientific results of the exploration. The foundation’s official website does not name the committee members. The scientific community is skeptical. Apart from the inconsistency and dubious naming of scientific supporters, the community has attacked Osmanagić for much more. From very early on the debunking of Osmanagić’s claims has taken scientific, personal, economic, and political routes. Scientific opposition has been basically a dual between one “scientist” versus another. Since there is no orthodox scientific research being made, the only information flowing out of the project are newspaper articles and reports from the foundation’s website. Since scientific research is limited, many outside opinions are resorting to circumstantial attacks against Osmanagić and his foundation.

The majority of the attacks have been leveled at Osmanagić’s credentials and the archaeological ramifications of his excavations. Osmanagić is known to have written several books concerning the Mayan civilization, all of which connect the ancient civilizations to Atlantis and Mu. Of course, once these fabled lands are mentioned with any sort of serious effort to connect them to other ancient civilizations, much less our own, the author subjects himself to the label of pseudo-historicist. The problem with attacking the discovery based on the discoverer’s credentials is that history has proven these explorers right. Osmanagić’s dreams may be fantasies, but the grandeur of his claims are based on the discoveries of conquistador Cortez and the trader Christopher Columbus. Scientists may even give this claim to him, as the immediate results of Cortez and Columbus’ discoveries have been compared to the potential destructive nature of Osmanagić’s excavations of the royal medieval town of Visoko. Yet the Osmanagić supporters, if anything, may have one valid point. If there were to be hidden pyramids, would genuine PhD-holding archaeologists ever find it? Osmanagić would probably say no. Some opposing archaeologists might even agree, but the main problem is that Osmanagić has not given over the excavation to actual pyramid or archaeological experts. He has continued with his excavation regardless of the lack of archaeological or scientific expertise on site. The reasoning for the lack of scientific expertise contacted by Osmanagić may be limited to the insecurity of the claims and possible falsity of his claims. This, however, would be a dead-end in itself as the verification will eventually be made, since you cannot hide a mountain. It is thus necessary to investigate other possible reasoning for the questioning actions of Osmanagić and the foundation.

When the science is ignored in an archaeological dig it is easy to envisage men in masks looting the pyramids of Egypt or the caves of Israel for treasures. Modern-day treasure, however, doesn’t necessarily come in gold and rubies. The concentration on much of the organization by the foundation has been on the tourist facilities and expanded transportation systems to the yet to be proven pyramids. The foundation, of course, is not the only benefactor of the pyramid hype. Tourism affects an entire community, although the negative impact usually is not felt immediately. In the meantime, small venders enjoy high sales of pyramid-themed souvenirs. A motel even changed its name to the Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun Motel. Osmanagić admits the great financial benefits in contrast to his war-torn nation when he states, “Finally we have something so positive happening in this little, tiny, ruined country of Bosnia.” Of course, where there are economic repercussions involved, political involvement is not far behind (or vice versa).

There is an immediate connection between the Bosnian government and the Pryamid of the Sun foundation. Zlatko Hurtić is on the foundation’s Committee for Collaboration with International Institutions. Hurtić is also the economic advisor to Chair of the Council of Ministers, Adnan Terzic (SDA). Whether that is where the connections end is questionable with some speculations being regulated to the realm of conspiracy theorists. One theory has even suggested that Osmanagić had previous knowledge of Roman fortresses, not hidden pyramids, from the Americans and are using the excavations as a diversion to implement a constitution that is detrimental to Bosnians. There is no doubt that the political situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina is complicated and it is probably impossible to decipher any actions that may connect the politics with the excavations. It is true that the symbolic nature of the pyramids carry a lot of political weight, as critics have quickly found out. Many Bosnians who are opposed to the excavations, especially the scientific community, have been labeled as anti-patriots. The media both within and outside of the Balkans have attributed to the pyramid fervor in a very uncritical fashion. Many headlines in April ran Associate Press’ story on “Experts Find Evidence of Bosnia Pyramid” which has led to subsequent uncritical journalism.

It is the verifiable nature of the hill that has me questioning the excavations. As someone outside of the scientific community or even the Bosnian political environment, it is impossible to attain the facts and to gain a real appreciation for the conflict. I cannot judge whether the claims are “wacky” or “unscientific” other than what I have read from journals of Osmanagić’s opposition. My understanding of prehistory and the methods used to study it are limited and thus I am relegated to the logic presented rather than the subject itself. Osmanagić obviously believes, or at least wants others to believe, that there is a pyramid under the dirt of Visočica. Instead of contacting and respecting scientific protocols, Osmanagić has pursued his own course based on his own pseudo-archaeological studies on Mayans, Lemurians, and Atlanteans. The fact is that they will find pyramids, nothing, or something else. If pyramids are found, Osmanagić will have proven himself and science will be taken aback and will need to re-assess their ideas about pre-history. If he does not find anything, Osmanagić will have accomplished only utter humiliation. My own guess is that it will come down to neither scenario.

Occam’s razor states that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity. I prefer Einstein’s version. As simple as possible, but no simpler. The town of Visoko does have a rich historical background. The two rivers that flow through the town, Bosna and Fojnica, made it attractive for Neolithic people. Sometime before the Roman Empire established themselves in the area, the Illyrians populated the area. Once the Romans did come in after 9 AD they built fortresses and roads. Most of Osmanagić’s “evidence” has been concerning prehistoric roads, walls, tunnels, and the slope of the hills. Is it not simpler to believe that the Romans, the famous road builders and fortifiers, had not created these tunnels? It certainly isn’t as majestic as three (or four!) hidden pyramids. Maybe Osmanagić will find something, maybe nothing. If he does, I believe it will probably be dated to around 2,000 years old.

Mr. Osmanagić conclusions have given hope to a war-torn people, but at what cost? Many archaeologists worry that he will destroy any true archaeological or geological research on the hill. His actions thus far have been spurious at best. The scientists that he claimed were on his side have denied him and the other scientists are constantly attacking him. He shrugs it off because he knows without a doubt that there are pyramids under those hills. He has “donated” $300,000 out of his back pocket for the excavation, which I imagine he will recuperate through the foundation’s tourist facilities. The media has jumped on board with a succulent story, and if he is wrong, the story could possibly get even better. The politicians cannot complain as it drives the attention away from the chaotic political scene of Bosnia-Herzegovina. If the conspiracy theorists are right, the future of Bosnia could end up in even more turmoil. The conspiracy theorists do, nonetheless, point out one thing that most newspapers have ignored, and that is the rich Roman history of the town of Visoko. Like Semir Osmanagić has said, 2007 should be a very interesting year.



1. duran - January 3, 2007

As I researched on the BosnianPyramid website, I found no evidence, meaning actual artifacts, only stones, to prove it is a pyramid. They claim it is limestone. I studied archaeology in college, specializing in Mexico and remember reading about the sites in the Yucatan. The Yucatan is a huge limestone shelf. If you look closely, the stones break apart in a very similar fashion. The Cenotes(sink holes) look much like these holes in the pictures. The mountain range in the area doesn’t help his argument either because it looks like a natural formation. I’m still skeptical. Artifacts will be the determining factor on whether this is a hoax.
Funny, great minds think alike! I too thought the road could have been Roman, knowing the Empire did expand and build roads all over Europe. I suspect, if he wants to prove it is a pyramid, he will hide any evidence, like Roman coins along the road, until he has milked the Foundation dry of money.

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