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Tales of "hidden" pyramids never fail to exert a powerful fascination over aficionados of ancient mysteries. One – or, depending on which version we’re looking at, two – examples frequently met with concern pyramids supposedly found on the ocean floor off Florida, specifically in the "Bermuda Triangle". The story is generally illustrated with this background image, sometimes in blue, sometimes in green:
and explains that the pyramids are made of glass. That, in its simplest version, is the form in which the story appears on, for example, the (mis-)information site, Wikistrike. The "discovery" is attributed to an oceanographer named Meyer Verlag, a "well known" oceanographer of whom no web-user has actually ever heard.
The story is of course a hoax - and not a very recent one, either, dating back as it does to an article published in May 1991 in the Weekly World News, a tabloid specializing in absurd and totally imaginary news items:
This article includes the main points of the story circulating on the web, including the "well known" oceanographer who discovered the glass pyramids.
Sometimes, however, the story is reworked and re-published in slightly varying forms. So, in the version posted on the Osmanagic Foundation website, accompanied by the same photograph, there is only one pyramid, this time made of crystal, while the oceanographer Meyer Verlag has disappeared, his place taken by "French and American explorers." The source article provides more information, linking the story to an older hoax about yet another pyramid, this time near the Bimini Islands, a small archipelago off the Bahamas (technically located in the "Bermuda Triangle", but still several hundred kilometres from the location indicated by the Weekly World News article). The story starts with a Dr. Ray Brown, a naturopath, who claims, whilst on a dive in the Bahamas in 1968, that he discovered an underwater pyramid, not of glass, but of polished stone with a capstone (or pyramidion) of lapis lazuli. Dr. Brown says he managed to enter this pyramid, and returned with a crystal sphere (which was the probable explanation for the references to a “glass pyramid” that appeared in some articles). The crystal sphere possessed "strange properties," so earning the description of "Atlantis Crystal".
Unfortunately for the world of science, there is no way of verifying this "discovery": regrettably, Dr. Brown’s diving companions drowned whilst trying to return to the pyramid, whilst Dr. Brown himself, now no longer with us, kept his discovery hidden for years for fear of having his crystal confiscated by the U.S. government, and the pyramid was never found again. Moreover, dates, places and circumstances of the story have undergone various sea-changes over the years, to the extent that even Philip Coppens, "journalist of the weird" and fierce defender of all pseudo-archaeological mysteries, does not seem entirely convinced about the facts of the case.
The only object left today from Dr. Brown’s adventure is a beautiful crystal sphere, now in the possession of a certain Arthur Fanning who (if it is indeed the same sphere) uses it in meditation sessions. But the story of Dr. Brown continues to circulate in "alternative" blogs and conspiracy forums, with very curious variations: sometimes it is attributed (see "Monday, April 4, 1977: Agence France-Presse via France-Antilles") to Charles Berlitz. But the same site carries an announcement (see "Thursday, June 15, 1978: Agence France-Presse via France-Antilles") to the effect that an expedition in search of the pyramid is about to be launched, with the participation of Jacques Mayol, a Greek industrialist named Ari Marshall, and Dr. Manson Valentine, a "marine archaeology expert" . Here, Mr. Valentine becomes the "curator of the Miami Science Museum", being accompanied by "Jacques Mayol, Jean Pierre Petit and an Italian billionaire." Elsewhere, Ari Marshall became "Arl Marahall" – or vice versa, the sites relaying this information being none too bright in the copy-and-paste department! However: it’s here that we find the origin of the idea of "American and French explorers" mentioned in many articles ... except the Mayol/Valentine expeditions, which actually took place, had nothing to do with any pyramid, stone or crystal: in 1968, it was the first exploration of what is sometimes called the "Bimini Road", a natural formation similar to the many natural "pavements" found globally, that pseudo-archaeologists, such as Mr. Osmanagic at Pljesevica, systematically interpret as paths or artificial paving. As for the Jacques Mayol / Jean-Pierre Petit / Italian billionaire expedition, which similarly actually took place in the 70’s, according to Jean-Pierre Petit himself the entire venture was based on a fake document .
The story of the pyramids in the Bermuda Triangle provides some fascinating instruction about how many "alternative" sites operate. Not only is there frequent recourse to the tactic of copy-and-paste, without actually ever stopping to check any facts, but there is also much use of what can only be called montages, using text and photos from all sorts of places to "flesh out" the story. One example is this article published in March 2012 and copied on the Before It’s News site. It begins with a summary of the Weekly World News hoax (Meyer Verlag, the glass pyramid ...) and, in the second paragraph, goes on to a variant of the Brown pyramid (French and American scientists, crystal pyramid). It takes up the idea of an opening in the pyramid as mentioned by Brown, and from that comes the concept of "two very large openings" causing a gigantic whirlwind that supposedly explains the disappearance of the ships and aircraft in the myth of the Bermuda Triangle. It’s all topped off with a fine Photoshopped image:
To try to give some credibility to the story (!), there is a link to a Florida newspaper, the SunSentinel, which - in 1987 - actually published an article entitled "Underwater Pyramid Hunted Off Florida"... Except that the article in question has absolutely no connection with any so-called "glass pyramid" 200 meters high found at a depth of 2,000 metres in the Bermuda Triangle. Instead, it discusses the unconfirmed discovery by a Vero Beach resident of a stone pyramid less than 10 metres high (30 feet in the article), almost flush with the surface of the water, near the coast of Indian River County.
Not content with referencing an unrelated article, the author brazenly reworks several quotes from it:
``It doesn`t sound too real to me,`` said Calvin Jones of the state Division of Historical Resources. ``I`m always open because we`re always learning new things. But the idea of a mound made of rocks under more than 10 feet of water — the chances are about one in a million.``
in the hands of the author of Apparently Apparel and Before It’s News, becomes:
"It doesn`t sound too real to me," said Calvin Jones of the Florida state Division of Historical Resources. " I’m always open minded because we`re always learning new things. But the idea of a pyramid structure, let alone one made of glass, under more than 10 feet of water — the chances are about one in a million."
Similarly, two different phrases from different sentences:
Jones said underwater sites in Florida have been found in less than 10 feet of water, but they consist mostly of arrowheads and animal bones — the remains of a primitive culture. [...]
If it is a genuine archaeological find, the pyramid would have to have been built between 10,000 B.C. and 6,000 B.C., when the continental shelf was not covered by water, said Chisholm.
are linked together, without any regard for syntax, to read:
Jones said if it is a genuine archaeological find, the pyramid would have to have been built between 10,000 B.C. and 6,000 B.C., when the continental shelf was not covered by water, said Chisholm.
In support (or indictment?) of the author, it may be noted that the byline used for his articles on Before It’s News is that of "Fake News"... except that he doesn’t make it all that clear. Moreover, the situation is rather different on his personal website, where he signs his name as Zach Royer, and describes himself as a "researcher". This "researcher" is clearly intent on sales of merchandise (his site, Apparently Apparel is basically concerned with selling T-shirts, and he also sells a booklet - $8 for 57 pages! – on the subject of pyramids and the end of the world). His business plan seems to consist of spamming the web with hoaxes in the form of articles and vidéos in the hope of attracting clientele. Obviously, many web-users swallow these hoaxes, and copy them, one after the other, month after month, sometimes with a few additions along the way...
Atlantis in Cuba
Amongst the various stories circulating about pyramids in Bermuda, there is one, and one only, with a somewhat more concrete basis, although, as we shall see, in the hands of the “alternos" it soon loses most of its connection with reality. This version of the story was published in October 2002, in the press and on the web, and, since that time, has been making regular appearances, each of its recycled web versions taking on an ever more fantastic angle. So, on 1st October, 2012, the Before It’s News site headline announcement read: "Atlantis Found: Giant Sphinxes, Pyramids In Bermuda Triangle". The news item was repeated in identical format on a myriad of "alternative" news sites, and in French on the inevitable Wikistrike : "The incredible Cuban underwater pyramids". We learn that the remains of a gigantic city were detected by a former Soviet spy, who, using sonar, found pyramids, stone circles "like the one at Stonehenge", sphinxes, "inscriptions on the stones" (in the words of Before It’s News, "ancient symbols and pictograms"). The articles are illustrated with a stodgy mix of cobbled-together images: stills from the 1961 film "Atlantis the lost Continent" (in the Before It’s Newsarticle); photos of archaeological sites that actually exist, but are unrelated to any "sunken city" (in the Wikistrike article, for example, there are photos of 9th century Cuban petroglyphs from the caves of Punta del Este on the Isla de la Juventud ("Isle of Youth")); photos of unknown origin, but probably with equally tenuous connection with Cuba; and finally, some "legitimate" pictures, but with completely topsy-turvy captions, as we shall see later.
- Image du film "Atlantis the lost continent"
- Image from the movie "Atlantis the lost continent" - Source
This version of the "sunken pyramids" story is based on a real event: the discovery in 2001, at a depth of over 600 metres, of structures of a more or less geometric shape situated off the Guanahacabibes Peninsula in the extreme west of the island of Cuba (and so nowhere near the "Bermuda Triangle"!) This discovery was first announced in late 2001 by BBC News ("Lost city’ found beneath Cuban waters"), before being picked up and run by other press media (National Geographic News: "New Underwater Finds Raise Questions About Flood Myths" in May 2002; the Bowling Green Daily News: "Submerged Cuban ruins may be manmade, experts say" in October 2002; the St. Petersbourg Times: "Underwater world: Man’s doing or nature’s?" in November 2002). After this point, probably because of the general lack of consistency, it disappears almost entirely from the "mainstream" press, although resurfacing regularly on “alternative” websites.
Then a discovery was made by a certain Paulina Zelitsky, an engineer and oceanographer of Russian origin, who might have worked on a Soviet base in Cuba (which might account for her sometimes being described as a "former Soviet spy"?), and her husband, Paul Weinzweig, described on many sites as a "scientist" although much more probably a businessman, at the time a director of a Canadian company called Advanced Digital Communications. Working on behalf of the Cuban government, this company organized a program of exploration and mapping of the seabed off the island, as part of an attempt to assess and identify hydrocarbon resources, and at the same time record some of the many shipwrecks around Cuba. It was inn fact Zelitsky and Weinzweig’s company that found the wreck of the famous Maine.
What Ms. Zelitsky’s team discovered was a series of sonar images revealing geometric structures:
- Dimensions de l’image : environ 100 x 200 mètres
- Image size: 100 x 200 meters - Source
They found this so intriguing that they sent an ROV to carry out a more detailed study. The robot brought back assorted images of blocks of various relatively geometric shapes:
The second of these images, the one with a more or less triangular block, was also published on Before It’s News and other sites, accompanied by the caption: "A second giant pyramid photographed by the ROV", although it is obvious, from the ROV projector scale in the picture, that, like the other photos in the series, it is simply a close-up of a block.
Working from these few sonar images and photographs, "artists" have manufactured inspired reconstructions of a "sunken city", along the lines of this one:
The quasi-geometric forms of these structures were so much of an enigma that they attracted the interest of, on the one hand, the National Geographic (which, although nothing ever came of it, at one time seemed to have been considering financing a new expedition); and, on the other, the great Cuban geologist Manuel Iturralde-Vinent, who, after studying the first results from 2001, approached the team, although, as will be seen later, he remained very cautious about its conclusions. A new expedition in 2004 seems to have come up with very disappointing results due to technical difficulties with the robot, bringing up to the surface only a few samples, not of the rocks forming the structures, but pebbles scattered about the site, including one covered in a barnacle shell.
Since 2004, not a single thing more, except for the publication of a solitary scientific paper by Dr. Iturralde-Vinent and Ms. Zelitsky, entitled "First record of the barnacle crustacean genus Newmaniverruca (Crustacea, Cirripedia, Verrucomorpha) from bathial depths offshore Westernmost Cuba". It is a very short paper, on the barnacle shell previously mentioned, Newmaniverruca, of which this is the first specimen to be found in deep water off Cuba. The paper does mention the existence of an unexplained structure, but states that its "nature has yet to be determined". It also mentions one very strange thing: the pebble that bore the barnacle to the surface consisted of volcaniclastic breccia (fine particle aggregate of volcanic origin), and the geologist had a hard time explaining how it came to be so close to a neighbouring completely sedimentary (limestone) continental shelf.
Given the lack of new information since 2004, there are those who have not hesitated to dream up a real conspiracy intended to silence the key protagonists. Needless to say, neither Paulina Zelitsky nor Manuel Iturralde-Vinent have disappeared from circulation; Iturralde-Vinent continues to regularly publish articles and books on the geology of Cuba. Paulina Zelitsky certainly had some temporary problems in 2009 with the Mexican justice system (unrelated to the case of Cuba, and speedily and favourably resolved), but for the most part she seems to have been keeping fairly busy, as a pipeline safety consultant for a company in Oregon, Fiber SenSys, of which her son Edward Tapanes is a director.
So why were they, and also the National Geographic, so lukewarm about proceeding with investigation of the affair? And why has there been no new expedition? To find the answer, we must return, not to the first rather over-excited statements from 2001-2002, where the protagonists, whilst resolutely refusing to mention Atlantis, did not hesitate to suggest a very ancient sunken site, but rather to the sole report on the subject with any attempt at a scientific approach. This consists of a web page set up at some time subsequent to 2004 by the geologist Iturralde-Vinent on the Cuban Science Networksite, in the file directory, "Origin and evolution of the Caribbean and its marine and terrestrial habitat".
This page, entitled "Estructuras líticas Submarinas al SW of Cuba" ("Underwater lithic structures southwest of Cuba") has not been published in a journal, and is therefore not mentioned in Dr. Iturralde-Vinent’s bibliography. The author begins with a brief history of the discovery and his own role in the evaluation of the research findings. He then illustrates the location of the site, between 600 and 750 metres below the surface. Researchers named the site "MEGA", and its structures are spread out over the slope of an underwater valley separating the coastal platform of Cuba from the shoals of Bajo de San Antonio. The article then identifies two types of element: on the one hand, large scale structures (measuring some tens to some hundreds of metres), some of which, on sonar images, produce linear or rectangular shapes; on the other hand, small blocks as observed by the ROV, which suggest parallelepipeds with surfaces polished by erosion. These particular blocks can be distinguished from other darker and more irregular blocks that can be observed at the base of slopes where there have been many landslides that have left deep scars visible in the side scan sonar images.
Two blocks of geometric form. It should be noted that the size of these blocks - including the "giant pyramid" mentioned in Before It’s News -is estimated by the author at about one metre.
Dr. Iturralde-Vinent notes that the composition of these geometric blocks could not be verified, although, given their stratified appearance, the rocks forming the nearby escarpments appear to be sedimentary in nature. No samples of blocks or rocks could be taken in situ. All that the ROV brought to the surface were some fragments measuring a few centimetres that were found scattered on the seabed. These fragments are curiously varied in nature. They consist of what appears to be basic volcanic scoria; a sample of volcaniclastic breccia (see the section above on the barnacle shell); and another of sedimentary breach formed of fragments of grey limestone. None of these samples contained any fossil that could be dated, and the author emphasizes that it is impossible to determine whether they come from the bedrock, from coastal sediments, or from ships’ ballast. The last option should be carefully considered, given the absence of known evidence for any volcanism in the vicinity of the site, and also the fact that the Cordillera in the province of Pinar del Rio, the nearest landmass, lacks any breaches corresponding to those identified on the site.
The author then discusses three possible origins for the MEGA site.
the natural hypothesis: blocks measuring a metre or so are the result of collapses and landslides on the steep underwater slope. Large-scale alignments are the result of the structural arrangement of sedimentary layers. One example of the latter provided by the author can be found on the island of Cuba, in the Artemisa area to the south of Havana.
the human construction hypothesis: This hypothesis is based on the traditions of the Yucatan Maya, recalling an island lost during a cataclysm, together with the unusual geometric shapes. It should be noted that Dr. Iturralde-Vinent mentions the possibility that these geometric shapes might, at least partly, be due to artifacts generated by the sonar imaging process itself.
the "intermediate" hypothesis: natural structures modified by human intervention.
The author then compares these hypotheses with existing geological and geomorphological data identified in the region. Without going into the details of the discussion, we may note that:
the site is located in a very unstable region, where steep slopes promote multiple landslides;
it is a tectonically active area, where many active faults and fractures have been identified;
the site is located in a tectonic trench, although not directly on the main faults flanking the ditch;
but that the linear structures on the site are very often associated with escarpments or slope collapses.
This leads the author to argue that, even if, lacking sufficient data, he cannot come to a definitive conclusion, or completely exclude the two "human" hypotheses, the "natural" hypothesis seems to him the one containing the fewest assumptions, in other words, the most "parsimonious "(cf. Ockham’s razor and the parsimony of competing hypotheses). Indeed, as he says in this interview, given the average speed of tectonic movements in the region, it should take at least 50,000 to 60,000 years for a manmade construction to be found at a depth of 700 metres. Although it is increasingly likely that the first settlement of America dates back earlier than generally recognized in the last century, the – absolutely extraordinary - idea of an urban civilization more than 50,000 years old in Cuba would require extraordinary evidence...
To summarize, we are left with two types of anomaly off Cuba: unusual geometric shapes, and the presence of unexplained volcanic debris.
In the case of the first anomaly, we cannot exclude the possibility of artifacts produced by image processing. Furthermore, Dr. Iturralde-Vinent also demonstrates that the structure and geomorphology of the underwater area are compatible with a natural explanation. Let us bear in mind that this kind of freak of nature is not as rare as one might think. In the "Gallery" section of this site, the reader will find many examples of geometric curiosities found in nature, some of which have been wrongly attributed to man (see here in particular).
The second anomaly is purely geological, and an explanation for it will probably one day during the course of further studies of the seabed.
If, in the words of the Cuban geologist, "no definitive conclusion can be reached," and if we cannot completely exclude the hypothesis of a sunken city, we must admit that the said case is very flimsy and rather unlikely. On a site on dry land, it could probably be easily validated or disproven, but in the case of a site at a depth of 700 metres, it would take evidence of a rather more serious nature to justify the huge expenditure required for further investigation. Dr. Iturralde-Vinent is clearly not convinced of the usefulness of these investigations. As for Ms. Zelitsky, either she is not so convinced as she seemed to be in 2002 about the existence of a submerged archaeological site, or she has given up trying to get potential backers interested.
Anyway, we can now see how far the roots of this story, which is not an uninteresting one, really are from the attention-grabbing headlines referring to Atlantis, the pyramids and the Sphinx. The most amazing thing about all these sunken pyramid stories is that, year after year, thousands of web-users copy and paste, on thousands of blogs and forums, without any verification or check, the same hackneyed hoax...