Carbon 14 dating - the next episode
Article published on 11 June 2011

by Irna

A triumphal announcement (bs), has recently appeared on the Osmanagic Foundation website, since repeated and copied multiple times on sites belonging to supporters, on alternative forums and in the local press (bs): the Pyramid of the Moon was supposedly constructed over 10,000 years ago.

Dnevni List, 31/05/2011

The reason for this announcement: a carbon-14 dating carried out by Professor Anna Pazdur, University of Technology in Gliwice in Poland (the same scientist who earlier produced ​​a date for a piece of fossilized wood from the Ravne tunnel, and, in 2008, took part in the “International Conference” in Sarajevo). So is this latest dating any more convincing than the first one, which itself was most probably the result of a piece of fossilized wood from the Miocene era suffering contamination from groundwater seepage?

The sample submitted for the latest dating was taken by former archaeology student, Riccardo Brett, from test hole No. 20; this test hole was also the subject of a somewhat bizarre ‘report’ by the same Riccardo Brett (see here, note 2). According to Professor Paolo Debertolis (it), of the Italian ‘complementary’ team, this sample is a fragment of “what remained of the wooden planks put in place to stabilize the stones during installation” of the ‘paved terrace’ that can be seen in this test hole (“quel che restava delle assi in legno poste per stabilizzare le pietre in fase di posa in opera della foto che ho postato poco sopra”). On the Foundation website (bs), it is stated that the sample was found between two layers of sandstone, the upper layer of which is "glued to the base"; the fragment of wood was probably transported there by the wind during ‘construction’. However, if we look more closely at the photos on the Foundation website taken while the fragment was being removed:

it can be seen that the dark fragment of organic material seems to be, not so much between two layers of sandstone, as actually forming an integral part of the top layer of sandstone. Is it possible to find a piece of wood actually inside a layer of sandstone? Yes: the Pljesevica sandstones, alternating with layers of marl, mudstone and siltstone, were deposited in the middle Miocene (base of the Lasva series; see this more detailed article on the geology of the Visoko region) at the bottom of a lake basin. Along with mineral debris, organic debris was also being brought by rivers into this basin; some of that organic debris was then preserved through fossilization. During his stay in Visoko in 2006, the geologist Robert Schoch observed a large number of fossils and accumulations of leaf debris: “In some of the sandstone layers, and in many of the mudstone layers, I found large accumulations of fossil leaf debris and even some fairly complete Miocene fossil leaves”. Another geologist, Amer Smailbegovic, also noted the presence of organic material and the fossilized impressions of leaves amongst the mudstones and sandstones from which Pljesevica is formed (see his report, pages 6 and 7). While these organic deposits are certainly less significant than those of the previous period (lower and middle Miocene), which provided the lake basin of Zenica-Sarajevo with deposits that formed major coal seams that are still being worked at Zenica, they are nonetheless attested in the Lasva series, either in the form of thin gray or blackish layers, or as lenses of organic debris:

So hardly surprising, therefore, to find a small piece of fossilized wood or lignite amongst these sandstones.

There remains the question of age: organic material from the Miocene should not contain any radio-carbon 14, and would therefore be incapable of providing a proper date - unless the sample has been contaminated by recent deposits of organic carbon, for example via water percolating into the ground. I have already discussed this possibility in the case of the piece of "wood" from the Ravne tunnel. The same possibility also applies to the latest dating sample from test hole No. 20, especially since: 1) this test hole has been open since at least the autumn of 2006 (see e.g., here, or these photos from the Foundation website gallery, the earliest of which date back to 2007), and 2) as shown in the photos above, the sample was extracted from the surface, in the immediate proximity of vegetation. Contamination resulting in distorted dating can very frequently be caused by factors such as the action of roots and the circulation in the soil of humic acid, the result of plant decomposition. Late contamination of this sort may be more or less offset by appropriate pre-treatment, but there are no guarantees. For this reason, archaeologists seeking to establish dates will, as far as possible, first try to avoid areas of bio-turbation, and, second, will take multiple samples from a site, so that they do not have to depend on one result only.

What can be stated in conclusion is that a single date obtained from one solitary sample cannot be relied on as validation of anything very much at all. And it does not end there. It appears that the Foundation organized the analysis of two samples taken at the same location, although only one was dated: apparently, the other one did not have (bs) any organic content. This could possibly be an indication of the presence of extremely ancient organic material (totally devoid, therefore, of carbon-14), one part of which has thrown up a more recent date by virtue of contamination by later material. However, in the absence of the Polish laboratory’s full report (doc file on the site of the Foundation is signed by Anna Pazdur, and dated March 31, 2011, but the file properties show that the last modification was effected by one "Semir" on April 9th [1]) it is impossible to make any further progress on this question.

Of course, none of the Osmanagic supporters, starting with Professor Debertolis, has raised the least question about the validity of this dating result. And, even if it were valid, probably none of them would be prepared to consider the possibility of an explanation independent of the ‘pyramids’; the presence of a piece of organic matter 10,000 years old is automatically taken to be proof of a ‘construction’. Mr. Osmanagic and his friends seem indifferent to normal scientific safeguards: what matters is to give the appearance of science, to use the support afforded by carbon-14 dating without fussing over ‘details’ of interest only to ‘armchair scientists’ ...