by Paul Gee
by Paul Gee
Tenement buildings were pock marked with bullet holes and crudely repaired craters from mortar blasts, testimony to the savage war that raged here not two decades ago. Yes, there had been repairs and new buildings had gone up –all windows and glass– but Sarajevo was still recovering from the wounds of its recent past and reminders of the war were abundant.
As my taxi took me to the outskirts of the town, I could not help noticing a huge graveyard which seemed to fill half the hillside. The gleaming white identical gravestones stood in neat regimented rows, strangely sanitised tokens of a chaotic past.
So what was I doing in Bosnia? Not exactly the usual holiday destination. There were no cheap Ryan Air flights here – in fact, no direct flights at all. It took two transfers to get here. The final stage of the journey from Zagreb was in a 1960s style piston plane, my first time in an aircraft driven by propellers. It almost felt quaint.
Sarajevo airport is tiny. When our plane landed it seemed like an event. There were just two luggage carousels; the second one did not look as though it had been used for a while. My luggage had been lost on the journey. A bored airport official handed me a form to fill in from behind a glass window. I did not get the impression she enjoyed her job.
As my bus chugged towards my destination, the town of Visoko 30km north of the capital, I watched the hills and the houses pass by. They seemed drab, as if painted by an artist whose pallet contained only grey and brown. The overcast sky matched the landscape.
But for all this I had a bubble of excited anticipation inside me. I had come to Bosnia as a volunteer for what seemed like a fascinating project - to help with an excavation. A pyramid excavation.
Pyramids in Bosnia? It sounds unlikely perhaps, but the pictures and youtube clips I had seen on the internet seemed convincing: they showed a huge pyramid structure, apparently flawlessly formed and perfectly aligned to the cardinal points. Granted, it was covered in soil, but so were the Mayan pyramids before they were excavated.
The man behind the project was the Bosnian émigré, Dr Semir Osmanagic. There was something about his infectious enthusiasm that was hard to resist. Could there have been pyramid builders in Europe 10,000 years or more before the Egyptians started to build them. This was the claim of Osmanagic. It seemed plausible.
And Semir Osmanagic had proof.
Of course I had only seen him on videos. With a trademark broad brimmed hat, and lilting voice, Semir tells of unearthing huge blocks at the site. He tells us that the blocks are shown by lab analysis to be constructed of an ancient manmade concrete; he speaks of a network tunnels under the pyramid which host strange ceramic megaliths covered with rune like markings. He shows pictures of pavements of exquisitely jointed stones. And most remarkable of all, a focused steady electromagnetic beam emitted from the tip of the pyramid of exactly 28khz.
As the bus drew towards Visoko, I caught my first glipse of the pyramid hill, dubbed ‘Pyramid of the Sun’. I recognised its precise triangular geometry from the many pictures I had seen, but I had not quite reckoned on the sheer size of it. It loomed huge above the town. The haphazard patchwork of roofs and building were dwarfed by it. If this really was a pyramid, then it truly was a whopper – more like a mountain.
I reflected on why the academic world had shown so little interest in the project. They had simply cold shouldered it. Osmanagic’s verdict was that mainstream archeologists were stick-in-the-muds who could not stand having their neat perspective of ancient history upset. The presence of the Bosnian pyramids turned conventional understanding of prehistory on its head. And this is just what the academic world could not contemplate.
I liked the romantic idea of Semir Osmanagic as the lone outsider pushing the boundaries of science against the resistance of the establishment. After all wasn’t Einstein a mere patent clerk when he discovered the theory of relativity? I bought Osmanagic’s story because I wanted to believe it.
Arriving at Motel Piramide Sunca I checked in. The other 30 or so volunteers came from around the world – Germany, Slovenia, USA, France – eager and enthusiastic. I’d arrived.
I had supper sitting opposite Professor Konstantin Meyl. I had heard of him. He was well known for his development of Tesla’s work. He told me he wanted to see if he could use the electromagnetic beam from the tip of the pyramid to light LEDs using ‘Tesla coils’ he had developed. This was exciting. It felt as though I was at the cutting edge of science.
My first day was spent in the tunnels, helping to barrow out a soft sandy conglomerate which filled the labyrinth. Semir Osmanagic’s theory was that the tunnels were made by ancient pyramid builders, possibly 25, 000 years ago, and that a later civilization had systematically filled the tunnels to hide a secret. The many side-tunnels had been filled and shored off with dry-stone walling. Inside the tunnels were the occasional huge boulders – megaliths – which Osmanagic said were ceramic, and they had special properties.
It all seemed strange. But it was fun working underground. I enjoyed the camaraderie of working on a project with such an interesting group of people – all ages and backgrounds. So I set aside questions for now.
That evening a fellow volunteer, Ahmed from Turkey, took me to see the Pyramid of the Sun. I had missed the grand tour with Semir Osmanagic because I had arrived a couple of days late.
The first excavation site showed a set of gigantic blocks of hard conglomerate material – what Semir claimed was manufactured concrete. Ahmed told me that he’d been told each block needed to be heated to over 500 degrees in the manufacturing process.
I looked at the blocks; there were only a few. What seemed odd to me was that they were arranged lengthwise in line with the gradient of the hill. This is what you would expect if these were part of a natural geological formation - an eroded and fissured stratum of stone conglomerate. But it was not how you would expect building blocks to be arranged.
The next excavation showed not blocks, but a continuous layer of ‘concrete’, cracked in places, again in line with the gradient of the hill. I am not an expert, but this looked like a typical geological feature – a rock called puddingstone – in which the geological layers follow the line of the hill. But according to Osmanagic this was more concrete.
OK, I wanted to keep my mind open. The next site showed not ‘concrete’, but a huge irregular sandstone outcrop which appeared to have stratified layers. Nothing obviously man made here. Except that it looked like the stone had been quarried at some stage.
I was finding it hard to be convinced.
The next few days were spend clearing tunnels. Then we had a day off for exploring the ‘archaeological park’. Semir had identified at least 3 pyramids in the valley. A group of us decided to visit the Pyramid of the Moon. It was less obviously pyramid shaped, but I had seen videos of curious terraces, of perfectly interlocking paving stones. This interested me.
The van dropped us off at the grassy lower slopes of the wooded hill. Here and there were chalet-type buildings reminiscent of the alpines. With the sun shining and the scent of wild flowers, this was almost a picture postcard scene. Except that the sides of the buildings were scarred with machine gun pot marks. Soldiers and civilians had been slaughtered in this valley. Whole families perhaps.
I remembered that the butchering of ethnic groups was a crude and brutal motif of the recent war.
We walked single file up the steep muddy path. There were excavation sites on the way. One of the pavements, to my untrained eye, did look as though it could have been made by intention. It looked impressive. It had thick slabs seemingly laid in straight lines.
Another of the pavements was a jigsaw puzzle of perfectly interlocking pieces of differently shaped quadrilaterals. Each piece was about 2cm thick. It all sat on a bed of soft clay. This was supposed to be a man-made pavement.
I have made terraces before. It makes no sense to build a pavement using thin slabs and to lay them on a foundation of soft clay. However, geologically it is not unusual to have a stratum of thin rock sandwiched between alluvial clay. And an intricate pattern of cracks giving the impression of paving is common when there are tectonic movements. Again this looked like a geological formation.
We had lunch at the top of the Moon Pyramid amongst tall grasses and flowers, finding what shade we could. There had been a lot of rain over the last days. But today it was hot and sunny. As a group of volunteers we had started to bond. There was sharing and laughter.
It would have been interesting to have explored more. But we had been warned not to roam on the other side of the hill – there were uncleared landmines. This is common in Bosnia. There are still many places where live explosives lie hidden. After strong rain and floods, there is always the chance that the mines will be carried to new places. You have to be careful even in ‘safe’ areas, I was told by a Bosnian.
Why had such terrible conflict burst out in Bosnia and the Balkans?
I thought of how tectonic movements cause stress. It was as though the Balkan region were the meeting place of cultural tectonic plates: the fault line where east meets west. The temperament of Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic religions are very different. Add to this the 40% Muslim population and the significant presence of Roma and you have the potential for cultural stresses.
Where tectonic plates meet, volcanoes erupt from time to time.
I was interested to know whether geologists had visited the pyramid sites. That evening I checked on the internet and found that a stream of geologists had indeed visited the project since the start of excavation back in 2005. Dr Robert Schoch was just one of many who had concluded that the apparent pavements were common geological structures and that the fissured layer of supposed ‘concrete’ I had seen the Pyramid of the Sun, was in keeping with the geology of the region.
I was puzzled why Dr Osmanagic seemed to dismiss this evidence so airily. After all Osmanagic was not a geologist by training, nor an archaeologist for that matter, but rather a businessman with a doctorate in anthropology. Serious questions were beginning to emerge in my mind.
During the day, I was still working on tunnels. There was something pleasantly womb like about being underground. Semir Osmanagic made much of the Schumann resonance of 7.83 Hz which had been recorded in the tunnels. This is the natural resonance of the earth, and some say it is a healing frequency. Also the tunnels recorded high readings on something called the Bovis scale. This was supposed to be very efficacious for human life systems. But something about Osmanagic’s explanation of the tunnels did not fit
It occurred to me that the layout of the passages was exactly what you would expect in mine workings. A short Internet search that evening showed not only that the area was rich in minerals, but that gold and other metals are often found in the kind of soft conglomerate in which the tunnels were dug. What is more, the pattern of numerous side-tunnels being filled in as new tunnels were dug, was completely consistent with old mining methods. Even the use of dry-stone walls to shore up refilled side-tunnels was a common practice.
As for the ‘ceramic megaliths’, the thing that worried me was that some of the boulders– which were supposed to be man-made - were only half revealed by the tunnels. The rest of the ‘ceramic’ stones were still under the surrounding semi-hard conglomerate which had not been disturbed since being laid down in a previous geological era. This meant that these ‘ceramic’ megaliths were made by a culture which was older than the conglomerate.
This was starting to feel far-fetched.
I began to think about what first drew me to the project. There are video clips of Semir Osmanagic standing before the pyramid hills announcing with an air of authority, ‘I am 100% certain that these are pyramids’. When I first saw these clips, I took the utterances as figures of speech, as a forgivable outflow of boyish enthusiasm. Now I was wondering if Semir was locked into a dogmatic belief system, more akin to religious conviction than scientific enquiry.
Looking again at the video clips I saw Semir boldly stating ‘Failure is not a possibility’. This troubled me. Dr Osmanagic seemed to simply dismiss expert evidence which did not match his fixed paradigm, and presented as incontrovertible fact the threads of evidence which seemed to support his perspective.
I was troubled also by the seeming lack of expertise on the project team. The organiser of the volunteers was a social anthropologist in her twenties who had recently completed her degree. Though a lovely person, she did not have archaeological expertise. She was supervised not by an archaeologist, but by another anthropologist. Neither, as far as I am aware, had studied archaeology as a primary discipline.
I was not the only person questioning the integrity of the excavation. I would say that half the volunteers remained very loyal to the idea that these hills were pyramids and accepted largely without question Osmanagic’s interpretation. Another quarter were more agnostic, but remaining committed to the central pyramid thesis. The other quarter, including me, had serious doubts about the quality of the evidence.
Was Semir Osmanagic just a good salesman? The Bosnia Pyramid Foundation under the leadership of Semir had created a huge ‘archaeological park’ , with numerous sites to visit. A guided tour of the tunnels cost up to 18 Euros per person. Tourists came in their droves. There were souvenirs, pamphlets, guided tours of all the sites. All for a fee. The foundation needed the income, and the income depended on selling the idea of pyramids. It was as though the project had become a self-perpetuating juggernaut.
But for all my doubts, I was still not ready to completely let go of the pyramid idea.
What about the perfectly formed ‘Pyramid of the Sun’. Surly Semir had a point here. How could that happen naturally? Even if the ‘concrete block’ theory was questionable, was it possible that a previous culture had somehow ‘carved’ the hill? Had they somehow sculpted it into a perfect pyramid?
I wanted to see a topographical map of the hill – one which showed contours. What I would expect to see is the plan view of a pyramid: four equal triangular ‘pie slices’ at right angles separated by clearly defined ‘edges’
I found a map on the Internet. It did not show a perfect pyramid. It did not show a pyramid at all.
Certainly, the north face had clearly defined edges, but the angle they made was about 60 degrees when looked from above. This was not right for a pyramid. The angle should be 90 degrees. The edges of the east face made an angle of about 120 degrees.
What about the other faces?
Well, there were no other faces. According to the map the south and west sides of the ‘pyramid’ had no clearly defined sides, just the normal saddles, dips and slopes of a hill. Certainly one could imagine that faces were there, or argue that that they had been eroded away. But the fact was, the hill had just two triangular sides, and these sides were not in any sense identical.
The idea that the hill was a perfectly formed pyramid turned out to be an optical illusion. The hill appeared to be a pyramid if you looked from the right angle. The mind is very good at seeing what it wants to see. The mind creates the other sides in imagination.
I must admit to having felt sad when I saw my last thread of evidence disappearing. All the evidence seemed illusory. Something in me had wanted to believe that this was a pyramid. I wanted to believe that in this time of ecological crisis and confusion, we could find clues from the wisdom of our ancient ancestors.
But the only evidence to suggest that these hills were man-made came from a set of lab reports, which I have not been able to see, which supposedly claimed the conglomerate was manufactured; it was a form of ‘concrete’ which even modern methods could not replicate.
This seemed to me to be very anomalous data. How could a lab claim with certainty that a substance so hard that modern manufacturing techniques cannot match it is definitely man made? As the reports are unpublished it is not possible to verify the claim.
So was the whole thing a hoax, as some critics suggest?
I do not think that Dr Osmanagic is a hoaxer. I think he is attached, to the point of obsession, to the idea that the hills are pyramids.
I suspect the origins of the longing goes deep. Perhaps to an unconscious level. The geometry of the pyramid holds within it what Jung termed, the ‘symbol of quaternity’ – the dividing of a space into four equal parts. The symbol appears in religion and mythology from around the world. The Celtic cross is just one example.
According to Jung, the symbol holds the archetypal energy of integration and unity. It also appears spontaneously in dreams when the psyche of an individual, or a culture, is seeking wholeness.
Was Osmanagic unconsciously seeking a symbol of integration and healing for the Bosnian people, a new foundation free from sectarian divisions? I suspect that Bosnian people are at some level still deeply traumatised by their recent past. A pyramid 30,000 years old offers the symbolic possibility of unity, of pride in the past. Certainly Osmanagic is seen as something of a celebrity in Bosnia.
But perhaps I am over romanticising.
When I spoke to ordinary Bosnian folk, they seemed largely pragmatic about the pyramid hill. It brought tourists, and tourists brought money. When questioned whether they thought the hill was a pyramid, they shrugged their shoulders. If it brought work, that was good.
Bosnia was economically broken after the war. It has not recovered. For now, the different cultural factions seemed to coexist with an air mutual acceptance. If there is a cultural split, then it is perhaps at this moment more evident between the generations than between cultural identities.
Many women of 50 or over, for instance, still wear traditional colourful headscarves; their dresses are ample, their faces are creased and careworn. The older men you see in baggy clothing sitting in groups smoking or drinking raki.
Young people, on the other hand, are very fashion conscious. Women 25 or younger wear revealing T-shirts and impossibly tight pants, the kind you have to peel yourself into. Boys wear clothes with words and symbols drawn from western European consumer culture.
These young people have known neither the tyranny of Tito nor the horrors of civil war. Their world is very different from their parents.
As the final days of my stay at the project approach, I wondered: is the ‘Bosnia pyramid project’ all a waste of time?
Professor Meyr, the ‘Tesla Man’ that I chatted to on the first day, was not able to access the energy of the electromagnetic beam, which supposedly streams from the pyramid. Another researcher was not able to exactly replicate previous studies of electromagnetic pulses. But they were each going to come back and continue the research.
Just as Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin when he was investigating moulds, so it is possible Osmanagic, or other researchers visiting the site, will discover something of scientific interest unrelated to pyramids.
It is possible, for instance, that certain combinations of geological features do in fact produce an upsurge of electromagnetism. It is possible also that it is good for humans to spend time underground for a while surrounded by conglomerate rock which is rich in quartz. It felt good to me.
As for the ‘archaeology’, I can only say that I do not trust the integrity of Osmanagic’s methods. He may yet stumble on evidence of pyramid builders. I am worried however that the project may destroy the archaeology of other eras in the process.
On a personal level, I come back from Bosnia with rich memories. I made some good friendships with other volunteers. The hospitality of ordinary Bosnian folk was touching. Perhaps in another 20 years the wounds of the war will be healed. I hope so.
On my return journey to Sarajevo, I could not help noticing the preponderance of vaguely pyramid shaped hills in the region. I reflected that the richness of our landscape rests on the geology below, born of upheavals, stresses, glaciers and floods. Change happens. Rock structures, civilizations, cultures: they all come, and they go.
And something endures through the changes.
For some reason these words of William Blake came to mind:
To see a world in a grain of sand,And a heaven in a wild flower,Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,And eternity in an hour.