A certain lack of professionalism - [Le site d'Irna]

A certain lack of professionalism

Article published on 27 August 2006

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The 2006 excavation campaign has begun in the "valley of the pyramids" in Visoko on April 14th, and it is supposed to continue until the end of October. During this campaign, the Foundation website has been updated on a daily basis - at least for the Bosnian version - with short statements and press releases, and hundreds of photographs of the excavations. So there seems to exist a wish for "transparency" from Mr. Osmanagic. However:
- most of the published photographs are of very low quality, usually the photographs published by visitors on various forums are much better; not to mention that at least part of the Foundation photographs are masked by the huge purple logo of a toilet paper company which used to be a sponsor for the Foundation...
- these photographs are frequently unusable: no scale, no caption, close-ups without any context... The lack of scale has been slowly corrected, but not the other defects. The most inconveniencing thing is the total absence of localization of the photographs, one can never know for certain in which probe hole, or even on which "pyramid" they are supposed to be taken.
- for one photograph that could present an archaeological or geological interest - if it had been correctly identified and named, there are ten of them totally uninteresting, except as "advertising": photographs of Mr. Osmanagic, and tens and hundreds of photographs of visitors, especially diplomats, businessmen, politicians... This is understandable in the context of a "propaganda" campaign aiming at convincing sponsors and lobbies, but it adds nothing to the scientific interest of the website !

As it is, this Foundation website however enables one to get an idea of how the excavations are made. Archaeological excavations cannot be improvised, and must respect some rules. An archaeological excavation is, by itself, destructive: when excavated, an archaeological site can never get back to its former state. Excavations usually are made simultaneously on two plans: horizontally (or accordingly to the dip of the archaeological layers if they are not horizontal), where the layers are gradually "scoured" archaeological level by archaeological layer; and vertically, in a place where the archaeologists will try to obtain a complete vertical stratigraphy of the site. For each step, for each archaeological level cleaned, the objects, still in situ, are photographed, drawn, carefully located on detailed plans, before they are taken off and labelled. At the end of the excavation, each taken object (artifacts, coals, bones...) can be exactly located in three dimensions compared to a basic reference mark; so that the archaeologists’ first care, before any digging, is to set, on each excavated patch, a fixed "grid" or "squaring", that will be used as vertical and horizontal reference. As the excavations proceed, the evacuated sediment is carefully sieved, so that even the smallest debris or shard (of bone, pottery, flint...) is found. This slow and meticulous method is essentiel, as today archaeologists do not seek only (as was the case in the XIXth century) objects (artifacts), but seek also to identifiy the (spatial) relationship between these objects, and all kinds of "artifacts" which are not properly objects, and will be irremediably destroyed by the excavation, as are posts holes, fire places and so on. Not to mention that the handling of the sediments has to be very carefully done if one is to make complex analyses (pollen, C14 datation) where the risk of contamination (by modern elements) is important.

Now, the picture of the "pyramids" excavations that one can get on the Foundation website appears to be quite different from this scientific ideal:
- No photograph published since the month of April, not even one, shows any sign of a grid, of any system of reference.
- As far as I know, only one photograph shows the use of a sieve; it seems that most of the time the sediment taken from the numerous probe holes is simply rejected, without sieving.
- Apparently the excavations are made at the same time on a great number of places (no precise plan of the excavations has been published by the Foundation); it is simply impossible that a professional archaeologist can be present at each place (and the "professional" archaeologists present in Visoko during part of this 2006 campaign are not numerous: Silvana Cobanov and Nancy Gallou, young archaeologists from respectively Serbia and Greece, and Lamiya El Hadidi, from Egypt, more specialized in the restauration of artifacts than in field archaeology). Now the presence of professional archaeologists is all the more important as, apparently, the numerous diggers are volunteers without a particular formation who do not usually stay more than a few days.
- A lot of photographs of the excavations show rather a "full force" labour (with picks, shovels, even bulldozers...) than the meticulous work of prehistorians.

Fouilles sur Pljesevica
Excavations on Pljesevica - Source

- On some days, a very high number of visitors are walking on the site; even if some areas are vaguely delimited by plastic ribbons, obviously the tourists nevertheless circulate almost everywhere. One of the first volunteers, who has been present in Visoko since April, mentions on her blog (en) some soil samples (taken in Pljesevica "rectangular structure" for datation) spoiled and made unusable because of the cigarette ashes dropped by visitors...

Fouilles sur Visocica : les enfants s’amusent bien.
Excavations on Visocica : children are playing - Source

Of course, one could pretend that these photographs do not represent the excavations as they are really made, and that, after the photographers are gone, at night, grids and sieves reappear...

P.S. :

Something quite funny is that there is, on the Foundation website, a "Handbook for Archaeology", which perfectly explains how to make archaeological excavations according to the rules, and gives details about all the scientific methods which are lacking in Mr. Osmanagic’s excavations. This handbook, made by Sead Pilav (the young swedish archaeologist who was supposed to be the "coordinator for the Committee for Archaeology", and who left in May 2006 after three days because of "the lack of seriousness and professionalism", see also here), did not appear on the Foundation website before February 2007, when the website was totally reorganised, and can be downloaded, strangely enough, on the page of the "handbook for recognizing Pyramids" written by Amer Smailbegovic (bs). It is quite curious that this handbook, dated from December 2005 and that must have been available to the Foundation at least since the coming of Sead Pilav in Visoko in May 2006, has not been published till now, and on a page where it was not intended (a mistake of the webmaster rather than an intended publication? the titles of the two documents are quite similar). In case the webmaster would correct this mistake, here is this handbook (unfortunately in Bosnian only):

Prirucnik za arheologiju - Manuel pour l’archéologie
Handbook for archaeology

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