Pyramid Power! The Curious Case of the Bosnian Pyramid

pyramid
The lands of the Balkan peninsula are and presumably always have been a melting pot (or, to use an unfortunately more apt analogy, a tectonic collision zone) of diverse people groups. Predictably, the genuine complexities of ethnicities and history have generated an even murkier tangle of partisan theories ostensibly related to anthropology and archeology. Out of the hodgepodge of theories, one would be hardpressed to find one more (polite pause) offbeat than that of the “Pyramid of Bosnia”.

In brief (mainly per Bad Archeology, source for the photo above), around 2005, local media and then some international sources picked up reports claiming that a structure in Bosnia was a man-made pyramid, by strikingly disparate estimates between 230 and 722 feet in height. The principle propagator of these claims was one Semir Osmanagic, a professor of anthropology at a local undergraduate college. Osmanagic evidently theorizes that the pyramid was built by the Illyrians, a known people group of antiquity believed to be the ancestors (or at least the cultural precursors) of the Albanians, and mentioned dates as early as 12,000 BC. He cited various authorities as supporting his views. Unfortunately for him, when said authorities were contacted for comment, they consistently either disavowed any association with him or presented very different interpretations. Among the latter were Dr. Robert Schoch, who recounted a trip to the scene thus: “Osmanagic and I were apparently seeing different things, perhaps viewing an entirely different world. Where he saw concrete blocks and human intervention, I saw only perfectly natural sandstones and conglomerates… For a week and a half this seemed to be the dominant theme: Osmanagic and others who worked with and for him insisting that this or that feature can never occur in nature, and thus must be artificial and human-made, versus me finding a perfectly reasonable geological explanation for each of the same features.” The one favorable aspect of Schoch’s report was that he claimed “evidence of Neolithic occupation of the hill, dating back perhaps 5,000 years.” Less kind critics have turned to such evidence in support of efforts to deny Osmanagic permits for further excavation

Thus, the “Pyramid of Bosnia” presents itself as a typical pseudoarcheological crank theory, and it is hard to disagree with those who discount it as media-generated pseudoscience. Yet, there is just enough in the story to give the thoughtful pause. While Osmanagic has been exposed to some criticism for occultic leanings, he presents a more creditable figure than the typical crank or outright charlatan: He is legitimately credentialed, reportedly holding a doctorate in sociology and university positions in archeology and anthropology, and by all indications sincere and thorough in his efforts to find evidence of his theories. I consider it especially noteworthy that, in contrast to far too many examples of Balkans pseudo-scholarship, there is no sign of ethnic partisanship in his theories: The only obvious way his ideas could be twisted to contemporary political purposes would be to maximize the already compelling claims of antiquity for the Albanian people-group, which he is not a part of.

Then there is the pyramid itself, which all but invites the thoughtful to second-guess common sense: Even taking it as a given that it is entirely of natural origin (as I certainly would), it is certainly a very odd shape, and it is not easy to discount the possibility that human activity had some role in bringing it to its current shape. Then there is the ample evidence of ancient and prehistoric human activity, which suggests that, if nothing else, the hill may well have held special interest to ancient peoples. What is entirely ironic is that Osmanagic’s critics have been placed in the position of arguing certain points for him. The evidence of settlement as early as the Neolithic can be said to satisfy the bare minimum of prior plausibility for the existence of an ancient monument at the scene. Even the charge that Osmanagic’s own excavations may have shaped the hill’s appearance lends some credence to the possibility that ancient humans reworked the natural features of the hill into a pyramidal shape. What is truly unfortunate is that there are little if any signs of anyone else taking an interest in the hill, and maneuvers to block Osmanagic may do far more to deter more orthodox investigation than to protect anything there to be found.

Regardless of the nature of the Pyramid of Bosnia, the Balkans remain an area of interest for pyramid architecture. A number of pyramid-like structures are known from the Balkan Peninsula, the most well-known being the “Greek pyramid” of Hellenikon. Based on the best evidence, this structure may have been closer to an Egyptian mastaba, and the interpretation of the structure of the tomb has been rejected based on the presence of a door locked from the inside. (Though there are ominous ways to explain such a feature in a burial site!) Also of interest are a number of tumulus mounds, the largest accepted form of ancient monuments, and especially tholoi tombs such as the “Treasury of Atreus”. These “beehive” structures represent a striking combination of the features of a burial mound and a pyramid, having a core structure of stone which is then covered in earth. It would also seem very possible, in the event that the original entrance was obliterated or buried, to miss such a structure entirely, giving cause for pause when considering where a natural landscape ends and possible human activity begins.

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