Archive for the Balkans pop Category

Pyramid Power! The Curious Case of the Bosnian Pyramid

Posted in Balkans pop, Forteana, Mythology, prehistoric on June 24, 2013 by David N. Brown

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.

Hercules in a Yugo! Part 2: Hercules and the Crabs

Posted in Balkans pop, Cars, Mythology, one-shot with tags , , , , , on December 28, 2012 by David N. Brown

After posting the opening chapter here, I decided that the best place for “Hercules in a Yugo!” was at a fan fiction site.  The adventure so far can be read here.  However, I think I will probably continue to post about the project here, including more self-contained “episodes”.  Here’s something I consider especially fitting for the purpose:

it came to pass that the Mighty Hercules drove his Jugo 45 past a cave by the sea. As they passed the cave, a large crab darted out of the cave and halted in their path. Before the hero could think to swerve, a rear wheel went over the crab, and the the tire burst. Hercules hit the brakes, and without turning off his engine he jumped out to change the tire. The spare was under the hood behind the grill, and the heat and fumes from the engine scalded the hero’s hands and reddened his eyes. Cursing, he set down the spare and started to lift the car, but lost his grip and dropped the car on his own toes. Theseus stepped in and used the jack. Hercules popped off the hubcap with his storied Crowbar, and when several lugs were stubborn against his wrench and tire iron, he generously applied his own teeth.

Hercules looked back at the cave. The sound of the tide could be heard from somewhere in the depths. But over it, and growing nearer and louder, could be heard a strange clicking. Seeing the king’s unease, armorbearer Iolaus climbed out of the back seat and picked up the Crowbar. Then Theseus pointed. From out of the cave came another great crab, or else the same one somehow survived, advancing with the sound of like metal castanets. Its carapace was as wide as a man’s breast and covered with sharp spines as big as nails, and its whole shell was made of gleaming steel. While Hercules fumbled with the tire with ever-mounting curses, the armor bearer strode forward to meet the crab. But the creature dodged a blow and darted past, and then Hercules gave a fouler curse than usual. Iolaus whirled to see the crab gripping the hero’s already-injured toes.

Iolaus ran to help his uncle with the crowbar raised, but Theseus halted him with a raised hand. “For now, the creature only grips,” he warned. “If you attack it, it may rend and crush, even in death.”

“Give me the crowbar,” Hercules said, glaring into the crab’s glowing eyes, “and I will kill it if it takes my whole foot off.”

“Go ahead, smash me to pieces if you can,” said the crab. “Your doom is sealed.”

“It speaks!” Theseus exclaimed.

The lamps of the crab’s eyes shifted toward him, their beams narrowing and brightening. “I am Cancer, Lord of the Crabs. I grip the wounded foot, and my people follow me. That cave is our home, whose walls no creature may climb, but we use it as shelter from our enemies, and when the rising tides threaten to drown us, we ascend together, every crab helping his brothers. Then we lay ourselves under foot, and when one of us wounds the heel of a passerby, he takes hold, to slow the prey till others arrive and add their weight, more and more until the prey is overcome and dragged to the cave, and then we all of us feed. Do you hear the sound from the cave? Do you see the lights in the deep? It is my people coming to the feast!” Indeed, as he spoke, another crab skittered from the mouth of the cave, and another, and another, while scores and hundred of pairs of glowing eyes rose like a great swarm of fireflies from the darkness behind them.

“So,” Hercules said, “you hunt the weak and the crippled? Then I shall give you sport!” He snatched the crowbar from Iolaus and struck, not at the carapace of Cancer but the legs, and three feet were crushed by the mighty blow.

Cancer, unfazed, turned his eyes to the first two of his fellows. “Come my brothers,” he declared with a wave of one of his claws, “and take hold of this man who thinks he can turn crabs against their king! Wait! Halt! I am your king!” The nearest crab snapped a pincer at King Cancer, who had to parry with his free claw. Then a second crab seized him from behind and started to drag him back, and the King of Crabs let go of the hero to fight off his subjects. A stab of his claw severed a leg from the crab that held him, but a slash of the other could not stop the other crab from taking hold of him. Then two more crabs grabbed hold of the one the king had maimed, only adding to the strength that pulled upon the King.

Then with a sweep of the crowbar, the mighty Hercules sent the lot of them tumbling into the cave, to crash into their fellows with more crunching of shells, and the rest withdrew back into the cave as the mass of wounded and entrapped tumbled down and down. Whether the crabs killed Cancer their king, or held him in the depths until they drowned together, no tales tell. But it was said that ever after, a curse of the gods was placed upon the kin of the treacherous crabs, so that whenever two or more crabs fell into a trap, they would never again join their strength to gain their freedom, but only grip each other in enmity until they perished together.

Christmas with EXOTROOPERS!

Posted in Balkans pop, films, Mythology, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on December 24, 2012 by David N. Brown


Hello everyone!  Welcome to the Christmas edition of Exotroopers!  I’ll be covering some odds and ends from my Exotroopers Christmas story.  The first exhibit, above, is what happens when a ridiculously high-resolution scanner meets a low-resolution concept sketch.  Still, I think it turned out okay.  If it’s not clear (and believe me you do NOT want to try viewing this thing at “original” size), that’s an angel, based on a description from Isaiah 6:1-3 and a marine creature called a sea butterfly.  I first thought of and sketched this concept way back in high school, worked it into “Christmas With Exotroopers” as part of Zed’s visionary experience, and finally did a new sketch this morning.  I scanned it at maximum resolution (after all the things I have seen go wrong scanning pencil drawings, I’m inclined not to take chances), cropped it and did a black-white reverse which is “standard” for me.

Here’s some of the other things that found their way into my very surreal Christmas story:

Ded Moroz, the evil Slavic Santa.

A news story on protests over the cancellation of Bosnian Christmas celebrations, which I used as a basis for a more dramatic scenario.

The “Christmas tank” photo used for the ebook cover image.  I located several images of decorated tanks.  This was the only one featuring a modern-looking tank (a modified M60 is my best guess), and the decidedly somber background settled it for me.  Here’s another image of a tank that looks even better for the presumed late-Cold War junkyard environment of the exotroopers.

An upload of the Czeckoslavakian film “Alice”, a very strong contender for creepiest film ever supposedly based on a supposed children’s book.   The stop-motion White Rabbit was used as a model for the rats in Zed’s ultra-twisted envisioning of “Nutcracker”.  I saw bits of the film, including the permanently traumatizing opening, ten years ago on a college “channel”, and tracked it down later.  I seriously considered covering this film in an installment of “Revenant Review”.  After all, how is a taxidermied rabbit that climbs out of its display case NOT “undead”?

A British visual history of nutcrackers, some of which get more than moderately weird.  Then there’s a positively disturbing specimen featured here from an American collection, which just might tie into the mythos of the “Nutcracker”.  Also, here’s a painting I used as a model for Zed’s nutcrackers.  In learning about the background of the original story of the Nutcracker, I concluded that an “authentic” Nutcracker would look like a German soldier from the mid- to late 1700s.  On researching uniforms from the period, I found documentation of a variety of uniforms, including types which would be reasonably familiar to Americans from Revolutionary War counterparts.  The soldiers in “pope hats”, however, were too good to pass up!

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

HY From Hell! Part 2

Posted in Balkans pop, Cars with tags , , , , , on September 14, 2012 by David N. Brown

Here’s one of my favorites from my file of pictures of the (in)famous HY van, from Serbia, no less:

The HY, best known in the UK and the Netherlands, appears to have been introduced to the former Yugoslavia in a venture between Citroen and the Slovene manufacturer Tomos, best known for its mopeds.  In the early 1970s, this collaboration was officially dubbed Cimos.  Cimos is best known for its version of the 2CV, known locally as the “Spacek” (Frog).  Construction of a “Cimos Building” in Zagreb, Croatia was begun in 1988, only to be abandoned during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Rather than being manufactured in Yugoslav factories, Tomos/Cimos vehicles were shipped incomplete from Citroen to Slovenia, where local plants provided additional parts, completed assembly and painted the vehicles.  Evidently, the final products were uneven at best:  Egist Zagoricnik reports that these vehicles commonly suffer from engine problems due to substandard assembly, as well as “premature rust” due to subpar paint jobs.

Cimos HYs appear to have been very few in number, and documentation of Yugoslav production is not readily accessible.  Surviving HYs in former Yugoslavia are, by all indications, very few:  According to a Croatian participant the forum where the above photo was posted, there were only 6 in Croatia as of 2005, and another 6 in Slovenia.  Figures for Serbia and other ex-Yugoslav republics are unavailable, and probably even smaller.

Meanwhile, the Cimos Building is  still standing; a 2010 photo documents creative reuse of at least one face of the hulk as a very oversized billboard. It is, surely, a fitting companion to any decrepit, angular HYs still lurking in the Balkan landscape.

Photo and other information courtesy


David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

Militarized subcompact

Posted in Balkans pop, Cars with tags , , , , on September 10, 2012 by David N. Brown

While the Zastava Jugo 45 (aka the Yugo) is the most famous automobile produced in the former Yugoslavia, it was not the most numerous or long-lived.  That distinction goes to the Zastava 750, aka the Fica (pronounced “Feecha”), an East Bloc clone of the famous (at least in Europe) Fiat 600.  Zastava is credited with producing the 750 for more than 20 years, for a total of more than 900,000 units before production ended in November 1985.  Exactly when the 750 entered production is unfortunately unclear from what can be learned online, with the wikipedia page for Zastava Automobiles giving both 1955 (the same year Fiat itself put the 600 in production) and 1962 (specifically for a copy of the Fiat 600D).  What is indisputable is that there are many 750s still around in the former Yugoslavia, including some unusual aftermarket “mutations”.  And they get much more unusual than this:

Apparently, this vehicle is a combination of the 600D/750 body with the chassis of a Jeep Wrangler.  The “KFOR” letters indicate that the vehicle belongs to the “Kosovo Force”, the UN-NATO peacekeepers of the former Yugoslav autonomous province of Kosovo, which throws a rather dark light on this reincarnation of the one-time icon of united Yugoslavia.


David  N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

Most Awesomest Schoolbook Ever!

Posted in Balkans pop with tags , , , , on August 21, 2012 by David N. Brown


So, over the weekend I found something from ex-Yugoslav pop culture that’s A LOT stranger than “Jugo 45″…


The letters here are Cyrillic, which would indicate that the book was intended for Serbian readers. The site where I found this indicates that it was printed sometime in the 1970s or 1980s. Should we suspect the Serbs of militarism, or just give them credit for knowing what would get a boy’s attention?

Image courtesy

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona


Posted in Balkans pop, Cars with tags , , , , on August 18, 2012 by David N. Brown

Okay, so I waited a while to do this, but it’s what I wanted to do for an opening post all along.  So, here’s one of the more surreal things I’ve run across in my years of Balkans research:

Translation in part:

They say that the miracles of the world
are African pyramids
They say that the miracles of the world
are great rivers of India

But there was no miracle
like a miracle
when my old dad parked
Yugo 45 in our yard…

It was a good time
everything on credit, everything for the folk and friends
pour some soup in your car
and go to Trieste to buy some jeans

It was a good time
going on picnics and the seaside
lots of laugh in the house
Yugo 45 in the yard…

One night I was peeking
I heard voices from the yard
Momo, Franjo and uncle Mirso
were talking quietly

You can’t hit your neighbour,
so they drank one shot and split up
That night it looked so small,
our Yugo 45

We escaped one morning
with two nylon bags…

Courtesy “Zhabba”,

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona