A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
In "Bosnian 'Pyramids' Update," which was posted on June 14, 2006, I commented on the news stories concerning geologist Aly Abd Alla Barakat, who was said to be from the Egyptian Mineral Resource Authority. According to the stories, Barakat declared that the hill was indeed a pyramid, though a "primitive" one. Was Barakat there officially? What was his expertise? The news stories said that he was "sent by Cairo" (Reuters, June 5) and that he was an "expert in pyramids" (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, June 2). Barakat, we were told, had sent his report to Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, who had "recommended him to the foundation leading the excavation work" (Agence France-Presse, June 12). Taking it all together, you might believe that Barakat had been dispatched by Dr. Hawass. Could that be true?
Unable to confirm any of this, I asked Dr. Hawass directly. Concerning Barakat, he states: "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." The supposed pyramid, Dr. Hawass says, is "evidently a natural geologic formation" and that "Apart from its general outline, this hill bears absolutely no resemblance to the Egyptian pyramids." He concludes that, "Mr. Osmanic's theories are purely hallucinations on his part, with no scientific backing."
Meanwhile, Canadian archaeologist Chris Mundigler, whose name had been mentioned as a foreign expert scheduled to work on the "pyramid" excavation, has written to ARCHAEOLOGY, saying that he does not endorse and never agreed to work on the project.
The latest news story from Bosnia quotes two volunteers (said to be archaeologists): "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." Perhaps those digging are now backing away from the 12,500-year-old pyramid claim.
Mark Rose is Online Editorial Director, Archaeological Institute of America.
Growing questions and increasing criticism, geological grandstanding, UNESCO, and more
One might have thought that the Ice Age Bosnian pyramid story would collapse like a bad soufflé, but no. Mainstream media has become somewhat more critical of stories emanating from Visoko, but much of the real work in dissecting the claims has appeared on blogs and message boards, such as The Hall of Ma'at (see "Pseudoscience in Cyberspace"). Unfortunately, the mainstream folks haven't picked up on much of this. Meanwhile, the professional community has become more outspoken, notably with a recent field trip to the site by Anthony Harding, who is president of the European Association of Archaeologists, and in response to a proposed UNESCO mission to the site.
First off, by way of summarizing it all, we are still awaiting any credible evidence that these hills are man-made pyramids and that they date to the end of the Ice Age. That's the big claim, and the burden of proof is on those making it. Semir Osmanagic says, "It's such a huge construction undertaking that the only answer is, yes, this is the work of a supercivilization" (see "Pyramid Scheme" in the July/August issue of ARCHAEOLOGY; abstract here). But where are the artifacts? Where are the settlements in which the people lived? Where are the dates?
"Not any evidence at all has been found," says Harding, quoted by the Associated Press. "I've seen the site, in my opinion it is entirely natural." But the same article, widely carried with slight variations (here is one example), still describes Osmanagic as "the amateur Bosnian archaeologist who has been investigating Latin American pyramids for 15 years." The conclusions reached by him, that the Maya originally came from outer space, identify the kind of researcher Mr. Osmangic is, but that's ignored by the reporter.
The AP story also recycles the opinions of one Aly Abd Alla Barakat, said to be a geologist from the Egyptian Mineral Resource Authority and familiar with his country's pyramids. His assessment: "My opinion is that this is a type of pyramid, probably a primitive pyramid." So, the "supercivilization" was apparently only able to come up with a "primitive pyramid." It's worth looking a bit closer at Barakat's conclusions, or at least the statements made by him. I haven't seen anything that resembles an official report, though according to a June 12 Agence France-Presse story "Barakat said that he had sent a report on the site to one of the world's leading Egyptologists, Zahi Hawass, who had recommended him to the foundation leading the excavation work." (I have not been able to confirm the claim he was recommended by Hawass.) In a Reuters report back on May 17, Barakat is said to have identified "sand layers" between the stones unearthed at Visoko as being "the same type of artificial cement used in ancient Egyptian pyramids." The AFP story quotes him as saying, "The white stuff I found between the blocks could be a glue. It is very similar to that we have found in the Giza pyramids." Glue? We seem to be operating in the fog of translation here, but surely a geologist familiar with the pyramids at Giza would know that the ancient Egyptians used gypsum mortar, sometimes gobs of it, to fill in between stone blocks.
So Harding, an archaeologist, says it's natural. Barakat, supposedly a geologist familiar with pyramids, says it's a "primitive pyramid." If only a group of eminent geologists familiar with this area would visit the site. Perhaps they could sort it all out. Oh, wait, actually they did already. There's a FENA (Bosnia and Herzegovina's Federal News Agency) report on an examination of the "pyramid" by professors from the Faculty of Mining and Geology at the University of Tuzla. This was apparently done in early May at the behest of Osmanagic's foundation, Archaeological Park: Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun. Conclusions? According to team leader Sejfudin Vrabac, it's a natural geological formation and there are dozens of similar formations in the Sarajevo-Zenica mining basin alone.
The FENA story about the geologists has been posted on a couple of websites. You can view it at Bosnian Pyramids: Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Atlantis by Alun Salt, a Ph.D. student in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at Leicester University. Salt combines his own observations with links to source documents about the "pyramids." For example, he cites different accounts that state the height of the main "pyramid" is 70 meters, 100 meters, or even 220 meters. Then he notes that, if its sides are each 365 meters long, as claimed, simple geometry dictates that the height must be 182.5 meters. So how big is the supposed pyramid? Apparently we haven't figured that out yet. That or it changes size from time to time.
Another question that has come up on messages boards is, who are the various experts that are cited as participating in the project? Salt has some of that information, specifically about archaeologists Grace Fegan, from Ireland, and Royce Richards, from Australia. They are both named on a January 18 press release from the project: "Participation has been confirmed by the following archeologists: Grace Fegan, a leading Irish archeologist, Royce Richards from Austria, together with other archaeologists from the University in Innsbruck, Glasgow and Ljubljana." But the facts are different. Neither is involved with the site. Neither ever went to the site. There are, apparently, other examples of this, such as Allyson McDavid (USA) and Chris Mundigler (Canada). And there is at least one example, too, of a person named as a participant who has proved untraceable. (This is why I view with some skepticism references to Zahi Hawass in conjunction with Barakat.)
Archaeologists and geologists are convinced that the hills are just hills, and the information put out by the project is demonstrably inconsistent or self-contradictory or misleading. What's the next logical step? "We shall send a UNESCO expert team to Visoko to determine exactly what it is all about," says UNESCO Secretary General Koichiro Matsuura in a June 5 Reuters story quoting him from an interview in the newspaper Dnevni Avaz. The Deutsche Presse-Agentur about this explains that "The chairman of Bosnia-Herzegovina's rotating presidency, Sulejman Tihic, met with UNESCO director-general Koichiro Matsuura in the Croatian coastal town of Opatija...Tihic informed Matsuura about progress at the site in the town of Visoko where the structure was found and Matsuura promised to send soon a group of UNESCO archaeological experts to investigate the find."
You might think that archaeologists would welcome the arrival of UNESCO on the scene. But that's not the case. Why? Because association of UNESCO's name with the site lends credence to Osmangic's claims. In fact, a letter signed by dozens of archaeologists (including myself) was sent to UNESCO in hopes of forestalling that. Bosnian archaeologists and geologists agree that the hills are not Ice Age pyramids. European and American archaeologists agree. What can UNESCO add? Nothing. What's the cost? Ongoing "excavation" threatens real sites, diverts funds that could be used elsewhere (whether in cultural preservation or social programs), and continues to mislead the public. Bosnia deserves better.
The letter to UNESCO concludes:
The pyramid claims of Mr. Osmanagic and the activities of his team pose a serious threat to the rich historical, cultural and archaeological heritage of the Visoko region. The visit of the UNESCO experts to this area should not be allowed to be represented by Mr. Osmanagic as support for his pseudoarchaeological claims.
This visit, should it occur, ought also to include Bosnian experts, geologists, archaeologists and historians and allow for their scientific opinion to be heard. Bosnia-Herzegovina came out of the 1992-95 war without some of her most important and beautiful cultural and historical heritage gems. It would be irresponsible to let pseudoarchaeology finish off what is left intact.
Click here to download the complete letter to UNESCO (pdf file, will open in a new window).