A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Has a Houston contractor discovered the world's oldest pyramid in Bosnia?
Driving to the top of the pointy hill that looms above Visoko, some 20 miles northwest of Sarajevo, is a bit of a hassle these days. A brown sign points the way to the medieval ruins that cap its peak, and our car crawls up the winding mountain road, dodging considerable traffic. Halfway up, a uniformed policeman stops the car. "Do you have a permit?" he asks. This is crowd control. Thousands of people are making a pilgrimage to this hill, but they're not coming to see the stone walls of medieval Visoki, or to have a vantage point from which to marvel at the rebuilding that has taken place since the 1992-1995 war. They're coming to look at, or help dig up, a pyramid in the heart of southeastern Europe.
Or rather, five pyramids. So says the Bosnian expatriate and self-styled researcher, Semir Osmanagic, who's leading the dig. In April of last year, the Sarajevo-born Osmanagic was in Visoko visiting the local museum director when he had an epiphany: The large hill overlooking the town, with its pyramid-like shape and sides corresponding with the four compass points, is actually the Bosnian "Pyramid of the Sun." He reckoned that four other pointy hills in the valley are the "Pyramid of the Moon," the "Pyramid of the Dragon," the "Pyramid of the Earth," and, at press time, an as-yet-unnamed pyramid. On the strength of photographs and his unearthing of a few large blocks of conglomerate and sandstone that area geologists say are as common to Bosnia as land mines, Osmanagic is convinced his six-month dig is about to rewrite history. "If those objects are accepted by the international community as pyramids, which I believe they will be within six months, all of a sudden you have such objects that are bigger than the ones in Egypt or in Mexico, and simply certain periods in European history will not have to be rewritten, they will need to be done from scratch."
Osmanagic, looking every inch the movie archaeologist in canvas pants and boots, his fair hair covered by a wide-brimmed hat, has managed to convince other people here too. And not just the several hundred volunteers, mostly local, who have turned out to help him. "It's quite obvious that it's man-made when one looks at it from a distance," says Erik Strom Sorensen, a Danish tourist. Groups of about 30 come daily to tour three dig sites on the side of the hill. "This is nothing," Osmanagic says of the tour. "Last weekend we had 12,000 people here." In Visoko, a town of about 20,000 with narrow, dusty streets lined with shops peddling cheap clothes from Turkey or household appliances, people stop Osmanagic to shake his hand and say, "Keep up the good work." Television cameras bearing the acronyms of the international press--CNN, BBC, AP--have all filmed segments here. And local television has pronounced it the first good news to come out of this former Yugoslav republic since before the 1992-1995 war, which pitted Bosnia's Catholic Croats, Muslims, and Orthodox Serbs against each other, leaving some 150,000 dead and half the country homeless.
But as the town, much of Bosnia, and parts of the wider world are lauding the pyramids as the greatest find ever, experts within and beyond the country are warning that what Osmanagic is practicing is pseudoarchaeology. And that unlike other such pseudoarchaeologists, Osmanagic is being allowed to dig and to endanger real archaeological sites here, because of Bosnia's weakened academic community and political chaos--and because its residents want to believe in a miracle.
So, who is Semir Osmanagic? According to the press--the BBC and AP among others--he's a Bosnian archaeologist who's spent 15 years researching pyramids in the Western Hemisphere. But Osmanagic is no archaeologist. He's a Houston-based metalwork contractor who holds Sarajevo University degrees in economics and political science. His 15 years of "independent research" have resulted in publications like The World of the Maya, which claims the Maya were descendants of aliens from the Pleiades by way of Atlantis. As to why the Maya disappeared in the tenth century a.d., he ridicules standard archaeology as the work of "Masonic cliques," and postulates, "Were perhaps those who were ready picked up in spaceships by their mentors from the Pleiades star cluster? Or perhaps they joined the Lords of the Galaxy and, in pods of light, set off on a journey with no return."
Osmanagic says the Bosnian pyramid is about 12,500 years old. Archaeologists note that the only people in the Balkans at that time were stone-tool-wielding Paleolithic people who never built a house, much less a pyramid. Osmanagic nods at this, saying that the "millions of 40-ton stone megaliths" here provide obvious evidence of who built the pyramids: "It's such a huge construction undertaking that the only answer is, yes, this is the work of a supercivilization." To date Osmanagic has not excavated anything he claims is an artifact, or material that might be radiocarbon dated, though he has offered geothermal imaging, as well as satellite and radar images to bolster his case.
Beth Kampschror is a freelance journalist based in Sarajevo.