"Pyramid of the Sun", 1973
(Photo credit: Wikimedia)
Deep inside Bosnia, in a small village called Visoko, just 15 miles northwest of Sarajevo, stands the world's largest and oldest ancient pyramid.
Or so it would appear, anyway. Ancient pyramids are not completely unknown in Europe. The remains of a small pyramid stand in France, two are found in Greece, and one in Italy. These aren't much larger than a house and certainly nothing like the massive structures in Egypt and Latin America. Thus, claims that a giant pyramid to dwarf them all stands in broad daylight in Bosnia are sure to raise eyebrows.
The pyramid sprang onto the world scene in October of 2005, when Semir Osmanagić, a Bosnian who lives in the United States and owns a successful metalworking shop, announced his discovery. The hill, named Visočica, is at the south end of Visoko and although it's completely covered in trees and other greenery, two sides of it are indeed remarkably pyramid-like. (Download this Google Earth Placemark to have a look for yourself.) If you look at it in 3D you can see that its two clear sides are surprisingly flat, and with a well defined edge between them. These two sides appear to have a nearly square base. The sides face nearly exactly north and east. A 1973 photo shows a great view of Visočica, and though it's a little more squat than what we've seen in Egypt, you clearly don't have to be a crazy person to see a pyramid in its shape.
Just don't look too carefully at the other two sides of the hill, which don't bear any resemblance to a pyramid; they just blend into the natural contours of the other hills surrounding Visočica. This explains why all of the photos you see of Visočica are taken from the same angle — the only one that looks good.
Osmanagić does have his detractors, and it's quite bit more than archaeologists snickering at his claims behind his back. Apparently Visočica happens to also be a real archaeological site. A Medieval fort called Visoki has been excavated on the summit of the hill and declared a National Monument. It's built on top of Roman ruins, which were in turn built on top of ruins from an even older tribe called the Illyirians. Osmanagić's digging amid these ruins, looking for pyramids, has caused outrage in the archaelogical community, and many have been lobbying to have his digging permit revoked. In fact, the European Association of Archaeologists published an official statement signed by the presidents and/or directors of the official archaeological organizations of seven European nations that said:
We, the undersigned professional archaeologists from all parts of Europe, wish to protest strongly at the continuing support by the Bosnian authorities for the so-called “pyramid” project being conducted on hills at and near Visoko. This scheme is a cruel hoax on an unsuspecting public and has no place in the world of genuine science. It is a waste of scarce resources that would be much better used in protecting the genuine archaeological heritage and is diverting attention from the pressing problems that are affecting professional archaeologists in Bosnia-Herzegovina on a daily basis.
So clearly, we have battle lines drawn, and two sides each claiming to have the genuine science. Osmanagić is the one making the new extraordinary claim, so the burden of proof is on him. Let's point our skeptical eye at his evidence.
Osmanagić refers to Visočica as the Pyramid of the Sun. He says that it's only one of five such pyramids in the valley, the others being the Pyramid of the Moon, the Dragon, the Earth, and the Pyramid of Love. None of the others have any apparent pyramid shape to them, they are simply hills, so what tipped off Osmanagić that they are ancient pyramids?
Osmanagić founded the Archeological Park - Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun Foundation to solicit donations and fund his investigation, though it's mainly funded from his own fairly deep pockets. The Foundation commissioned one of its members, geophysicist Dr. Amer Smailbegovic to study available thermal images of the area, looking for thermal inertia. Basically, looking for areas that cool faster at night, and warm faster in the morning, than the surrounding area. Smailbegovic's report claims to have identified nine pyramids in this manner, five of them in Visočica's valley. Neither Smailbegovic nor Osmanagić offer any plausible explanation of why man-made pyramids might exhibit such a property, but it turns out there is a good reason that they do. The large pyramids in Egypt and Latin America are the highest points around, and a comparison of Smailbegovic's thermal images with topography maps show that (big surprise) it's generally the highest geographic points (hilltops, ridges, pyramids, whatever they are) that exhibit the lowest thermal inertia. If Smailbegovic did control for this fairly obvious correlation, he did not mention it in his report. When you choose your conclusion first, and then look for data that supports it, you're virtually guaranteed to get the results you want.
Osmanagić also offers as evidence the existence of a vast network of tunnels connecting all of his pyramids, and which exit at the summit of each. If true, this would certainly be interesting, but it would not, as he claims, make it consistent with man-made pyramids, as no known pyramids had any such network of tunnels connecting them that we know of. He offers video of one of the tunnels being explored. However this tunnel is the only one found so far, went back only 300 meters, and is located 3 kilometers away from Visočica. It could be an old mine shaft, nobody really knows (the area has been mined for coal, iron, and copper since Roman times); but there's certainly no evidence that the tunnel goes anywhere near Visočica or any other of Osmanagić's hills. Apparently he deduced the existence of a tunnel network from old, unsourced local stories about children going into one hill and emerging at the top of another. So much for the alleged "network of tunnels". If it exists at all, it certainly has never been found or detected.
Further evidence in favor of the pyramid comes from Harry Oldfield, an enthusiast in New Age energy crystals and aura photography. He took video of Visočica using a camera that digitally replaces colors, to which he gives the scientific-sounding name Polycontrast Interference Photography, and which he claims provides a "real time, moving image of the energy field." Technically, replacing colors just alters the visual image, it does not change the fact that the camera is capturing only visual data. Osmanagić, who refers to Oldfield as Dr. Oldfield for reasons known only to himself, analyzed this video and stated:
..The energy fields are vertical, as opposed to horizontal, which is the case with naturally occurring hills. In contrast to natural phenomena where the energy fields are fixed, these electromagnetic fields are pulsating and non-homogenous. The Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun is in fact acting like a giant energy accumulator which continually emits large quantities of energy. It is the proverbial perpetuum mobile, which got its start in the distant past and continues its activity without respite.
In Oldfield's color replacement video, brightness gradients in the sky appear as different colored bands, as is fairly obvious from a glance at the video. In explaining how he chose which colors to replace with which, Oldfield says "Some clairvoyants and mystics with their gifts helped me develop some of the filters in PIP which simulate what they see." If you understand what simple color replacement means, you should be able to judge for yourself the validity of Oldfield's video as proof that Visočica is a man-made pyramid.
Osmanagić's diggings on Visočica have been mainly to expose what appears to be extensive hand-laid stone roads, walls, and plazas, also including what appear to be ancient concrete blocks stacked in regular patterns. Although these structures look pretty convincing, geologists have yet to be impressed. The apparently nicely paved surfaces have been conclusively identified as natural strata. Local geologists call this series of strata the Lasva series, found throughout the region. This includes the blocks of conventional conglomerate, which Osmanagić misidentifies as artificial concrete. Similar structures that are equally or more impressive are found throughout the world.
Osmanagić does have his supporters, and it's not just he who identifies the conglomerate as concrete. These pronouncements claimed as scientific discoveries are made by the Board of Directors of Osmanagić's foundation, who are essentially the same people as the fifty or so who attended his ICBP 2008, the First International Conference on the Bosnian Pyramids. Occasionally the Foundation has named scientists from other countries as participants on their team. Osmanagić once said:
Foreigners on our team include experienced archaeologists such as Richard Royce from Australia, Allyson McDavid from U.S., Chris Mundligler from Canada, Martin Aner from Austria.
Shall we take them one by one? Royce Richards (not Richard Royce) found that he had been named as "Senior Archaeologist" on the Foundation web site after merely sending Osmanagić an email, and describes the project as "snake oil" and "bollocks". Allyson McDavid does not participate in the project and is an illustrator, not an archaeologist. Chris Mundigler spent that year on a different archaeological project in a different country. There is no mention of various spellings of Martin Aner on the Foundation's web site that I could find.
The more I searched, the more people I found with similar stories. Sead Pilav and Grace Fegan are two more such victims. But I did find at least one case where a scientist named by the Foundation actually does exist and did visit the site for 45 days, a Dr. Ali Barakat from Egypt.
Dr. Barakat was reported to have been "sent by Cairo to assist Osmanagić's team." But when Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities was asked by Archaeology Magazine if this was true, the reply came directly from the Secretary General himself, Dr. Zahi Hawass:
The discoverer of the “pyramid” in Bosnia, Semir Osmanagić, who claims that a hill
near the Bosnia River is a man-made structure built before the end of the last Ice Age, is not a
specialist on pyramids. His previous claim that the Maya are from the Pleiades and Atlantis
should be enough for any educated reader.
This “pyramid” is actually a sloping hill near a village. ...Mr. Barakat, the Egyptian geologist working with Mr. Osmanagić, knows nothing about
Egyptian pyramids. He was not sent by the SCA, and we do not support or concur with his statements.
But it's worth pointing out that the scientific method does not permit us to use the business ethics of the Foundation as evidence that their scientific claims are not true. But they're certainly a red flag. And red flags turn out to be pretty much all Osmanagić has to justify his theory. The geology tells us that if the "pyramid" was man-made, it was constructed by laying the existing strata right back exactly where they were naturally formed, layer by layer, from bottom to top. This is one case where we can make a conclusion stronger than a lack of sufficient evidence to justify the claim. Visočica itself gives us all the physical, testable evidence needed to conclusively disprove the existence of the Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun.
Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "The Bosnian Pyramids." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
10 Feb 2009. Web.
5 Feb 2016. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4140>
References & Further Reading
Harding, A. "The Great Bosnian Pyramid Scheme." British Archaeology. 1 Jan. 2007, Issue 92.
Hawass, Z. Letter to Mark Rose. Cairo: Arab Republic of Egypt, Ministry of Culture, Supreme Council of Antiquities, 2006.
IRNA. "Geology of the Bosnian Pyramids." Le site d’Irna. IRNA, 25 Nov. 2006. Web. 10 Jan. 2010. <http://irna.lautre.net/Geology-of-the-Bosnian-pyramids.html>
Rose, M. "The Bosnia-Atlantis Connection." Archaeology. Archaeological Institute of America, 27 Apr. 2006. Web. 10 Feb. 2009. <http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/osmanagic/>
Schoch, R. "The Bosnian Pyramid Phenomenon." The New Archaeology Review. 1 Sep. 2006, Volume 1, Issue 8: 16-17.
Woodard, C. "The Mystery of Bosnia's Ancient Pyramids." Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian Institution, 1 Dec. 2009. Web. 14 Jan. 2010. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/The-Mystery-of-Bosnias-Ancient-Pyramids.html>