The Bosnian pyramids affair has given birth to some more or less academic discussions and thoughts, not about the “pyramids” themselves, but rather about the context and the impact of this affair on the Bosnian society. I’ve collected here some texts about these discussions.
Fictitious pasts: a danger for European archaeology?
During the 14th Annual Conference of the European Archaeologists’ Association (EAA) in 2008 in Malta, a session organized by Anthony Harding was devoted to the "fictitious pasts" and their dangers. Two papers were centered on the Bosnian pyramids.
Invented pasts and official archaeologies, Anthony Harding, Exeter University, UK ;
Addressing the complexities of invented heritage: the case of the “Bosnian pyramids”, Tera Pruitt, Cambridge University, UK.
«The recent Bosnian pyramid fiasco has drawn attention to the way in which the creation of fictitious pasts can be used for political and nationalist ends, and has reignited the debate over the right of archaeologists to dictate to the public which past they should believe in. In a multivocal world, everyone can promote theories about the ancient past, whether or not based on sound evidence, and usually these are harmless since no action follows from them. Sometimes, however, such theories can take on an altogether more menacing aspect, endangering not just the wellfounded mainstream beliefs about the ancient world, but also the scientists who hold to those beliefs.
The session will look at a range of case studies, from Europe and beyond, in which fictitious pasts of various kinds have been created, and consider to what extent such views are damaging to science and to scientists. Offers of papers are welcome on the various aspects of this debate, including the criteria by which unusual theories about the past should be judged, the role of the professional archaeologist in dealing with the media and the public when assessing such theories,
and the courses of action which should follow when activities that are dangerous in social and political terms ensue.»
Contextualising Alternative Archaeology - Socio-Politics and Approaches
A paper by Tera Pruitt published in “Invention and Reinvention:
Perceptions and Archaeological Practice”, Archaeological Review from Cambridge, Issue 24.1, April 2009
«This paper examines the case of the Bosnian Pyramids in order to identify socio-political, theoretical and practical complexities in a case of alternative archaeology and to address mainstream approaches to this project.»
«Such a need for pyramids is clearly seen at Visoko. Unlike the
unsuccessful pseudoarchaeology site of Gabela, Osmanagić’s pyramid
site satisfies specific socio-political needs. It offers a world-class monument that outstands and outsizes every other major national monument in the world, right there in ‘little Bosnia’, a country still trying to solidify itself on the global political stage. It offers Muslim populations their own pilgrimage and tourist site. It offers politicians a diversion from unstable government problems and provides a successful campaign strategy. It gives a war-ravaged town a thriving and much-needed economic boost. In short, it fulfils serious social and economic needs. Mainstream professionals who wish to address this kind of alternative archaeology need to fully engage with the socio-politics that create and sustain it, otherwise, they may as well joust windmills.»
Meta-stories of archaeology
A paper by Cornelius Holtorf, Linnaeus University, Sweden, published in World Archaeology Issue 3, 2010
«An interesting contemporary case are the so-called Bosnian pyramids in Visoko near Sarajeyo (Pruitt 2009). Several mountains are claimed to be previously unknown pyramids of a lost civilization dating to as early as 12,000 BC (Figure 3). The story about a newly discovered
Bosnian past featuring huge pyramids that archaeological excavations are gradually revealing is uplifting for some, depressing for others, and amazingly entertaining for others again.
Caught up in assessing the details of the story, archaeologists can easily miss the more significant dimension of the meta-story being told. Characteristic is the following statement from the pyramid promoters’ own email newsletter (26 March 2010): “The discovery of the Bosnian pyramids launched Bosnia onto the world archaeological map as one of the cradles of civilisation… The largest pyramids, and potentially the oldest in the word, have been discovered, the highest quality ancient concrete and one of the largest underground networks
of tunnels and spaces with multi-toned ceramic sculptures.” The pyramids and its superlative archaeology thus serve to illustrate a glorious Bosnian heritage. They talk about a specific collective identity and sense of belonging firmly associated with ethnic nationalism (cf.
Silberman 1995). Part of the controversy about the status of the pyramids can be attributed to worries about the nature and impact of that collective identity which appears to be reinforcing national pride in an unstable region that has recently witnessed war and ethnic cleansing.»
Pseudo-Science, Erasure, and Exclusion: Why the Past Is Important in the Present
A paper presented by John Bohannon, Science Magazine and Visiting Scholar at Harvard University, at the 2009 Conference of CHAMP (Collaborative for Cultural Heritage and Museum Practices) at the University of Illinois, under the title "Bosnia’s Valley of the Pyramids: Nationalism and Pseudo-Science in the Balkans".
«More than a decade after civil war and genocide ripped apart Yugoslavia, Bosnians are still digging up unidentified bodies and unexploded shells. But for those digging into the large hill near the Bosnian city of Visoko, this is not a time of despair but rather mystical wonder and hope. According to Bosnian entrepreneur Semir Osmanagic, this is not a hill but rather a 12,000 year-old pyramid, built by a lost civilization. Osmanagic is regarded by many in Bosnia as a national hero for the pride he has given this poor country and because Visoko’s conversion to a tourist mecca is feeding a war-torn local economy.
Almost all archaeologists and scientists – including many in Bosnia – reject identification of the structure as anything but a natural hill, but Osmanagic and his followers persist. This is a fascinating case of the tensions between well-meaning nationalism and highly problematical pseudo-science that can damage the reputation of Bosnia’s archaeological community.»
Walk Like an Egyptian: Identity Construction in Post-Conflict Bosnia-Herzegovina
Marcus Alexander, Stanford University; Fotini Christia, MIT and Harvard University; under review at Comparative Politics
«Here we studied a uniquely visible national identity myth in the making: the purported discovery of a pyramid in Visoko, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Though objectively false, this myth has galvanized nationalist sentiment across the state. However, our survey of high-schoolers in Mostar revealed that the myth has not been universally accepted. Rather, both ethnic groups Bosniaks and Croats exhibited significant variation in their attitudes about the pyramids alleged discovery.
That variation, it turns out, is best explained by ethnic group membership and the strength of individual identification. Self-identified members of the ethnic group with the strongest ties to the emerging state (Bosniaks) were robustly more likely to believe in the pyramids veracity. Meanwhile, a belief that the pyramid affects ones identity appears to be best explained by the intensity of ones ethnic identity, proxied by the individuals mosque attendance.»
Dispatches from the Bosnian Valley of the Kings or How Bosnians created a fictionalized national History
Lejla Tricic, thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in the College of Arts and Humanities California State University, Fresno; December 2007.
A beautiful text which, despite some factual errors and questionable bias, allows a better understanding of the reactions of many Bosnians, in Bosnia as well as in the diaspora, in the case of the pyramids.
«Last year, claims concerning an unprecedented discovery in Bosnia
were made. A complex of pyramids, complete with an access plateau and a network of tunnels has been claimed to exist, creating frenzy
throughout the country. Chapter 1 creates a background to the story,
offering an overview of the claims. Chapter 2 outlines the problem of
truth that has always been associated with history in Bosnia, as the
truth here lies in the eye of beholder. Chapter 3 deals with the Bosnian
war and genocide. Chapter 4 discusses the language as a vehicle of
trauma, examining the rhetoric and humor about Bosnians and the ways in which the language was used to justify the war, damage the national identity, and undermine the concept of truth altogether. Chapter 5 concludes with postulating that pyramid fictional national narrative is created to overcome the pain and suffering, and to heal.»
Politics, Money and Science
An article by Robert M. Schoch, Boston University, published in Atlantis Rising, 85, January 2011
«On a different scale, I have seen the corrupting effects of money in Bosnia. I am referring to the so-called "Bosnian Pyramids" located in Visoko. Initially I was excited about the prospect of very ancient pyramids (claims circulated that they were 10,000 or more years old). Upon visiting the site, I discovered a massive hoax fueled by money, power, influence, and patronage. The major player is Semir Osmanagich, a Bosnian-American who continues to promote several natural hills as human-made ancient pyramids. He has solicited
private, corporate, and government backing and funds to continue excavations there, excavations that only perpetuate the fraud by actually shaping the hills into what appear superficially to be step-pyramid structures. Osmanagich brings high-level politicians to the site, touting the great "discoveries" being made, and organizes "conferences" about the "pyramids."
While in Visoko exploring the site firsthand in 2006,1 briefly met a former head of state of Yugoslavia, there to support the "pyramids"
(Bosnia/Herzegovina is one of the countries that resulted from the breakup of Yugoslavia during the 1991-1995 wars), and I attended one of Osrnanagich’s conferences. The conference was a farce with no hard evidence corroborating the reality of the "pyramids" but rather a lot of mumbo-jumbo and ambiguous comments generated by people
claiming to be scientists (archaeologists, geophysicists, chemists, geologists—you name it) who were present simply because they
were being paid, and jobs were difficult to come by in the ravaged Bosnian economy. The politicians apparently knew nothing about science, and could care even less. All they were concerned about was bringing in money, and the so-called pyramids formed a major tourist attraction, with small businesses, restaurants, and hotels sprouting up
to serve the needs of the pilgrims to the site. And pilgrims they were, for they were coming to a virtually sacred site, one that engendered
national loyalty and pride in the antiquity and sophistication of Bosnia’s origins —supposedly older than Egypt or perhaps any other civilization. To question the authenticity of the Bosnian pyramids was to insult the Bosnian people and their heritage. Nationalism can trump scientific evidence and reason. The paradigm, the accepted dogma, in the case of the so-called Bosnian pyramids was that they are authentic. Evidence to the contrary was ignored, or worse yet, those advocating a different view were vilified and persecuted. I was reminded of the Inquisition.»