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paranoid theory of the week :: are the oldest pyramids on earth located in bosnia?

in central bosnia, just 30km northwest of sarajevo lies the medieval capital of visoki. the area has been continuously inhabited for four thousand years, owing to its perfect location along both the bosna and fojnica rivers and in proximity to visočica hill, whose 213m height made the settlement easily defensible. it was an important city during the time of the bosnian empire, but by the early sixteenth century, it had been abandoned. in its wake, the city of visoko sprung up just adjacent to the original settlement, in the shadow of the castle town whose ruins can still be seen [and visited!].

years of civil war have caused irreparable damage to the balkans [didn't we talk about this not so long ago?], but visoko has proved shockingly resilient. and as a sense of normalcy has returned to the area, it's no wonder that a lot of curious tourists have started to flood into all the balkan states, to take in the glories of a lesser-known part of europe, rich in history, but lacking the glitz of the continent's better-known destinations.

since 2005, however, people have specifically descended on visoko for one thing: to visit the [in]famous bosnian pyramids. yes, the theory has been put forward that the unusual-looking visočica hill is actually an ancient pyramid- possibly the oldest pyramid in the world- and that it is flanked by others. such a discovery would be huge. no, i'm not giving that enough emphasis: such a discovery would be megagigantichuge, because as far as we've been able to tell, the people who lived in the region thousands of years ago were still getting the hang of building fire and a shelter in such a way that they could enjoy the benefits of both. we would have to rethink much of what we know about european history, nay world history in order to accommodate a discovery of this magnitude.

and so the question must be asked: do we need to start the great rethinking?

one of the tunnels that leads to the pyramid. from trip advisor.
the theory ::
there is at least one, probably two and as many as five step pyramids located underneath visočica hill in bosnia.

the origin :: 
an american-croatian archaeologist named semir osmanagić made the claim after he was invited to visit the medieval ruins in 2005. he published a book on the subject the following year, and we were off to the races.

the believers ::
more than this sort of story normally gets. osmanagić, of course, has never backed off his claims. but his theories have also been accepted by bosnian politicians, segments of the sarajevo media and a lot of bosnians who like the idea that they might just be descended from a magnificent lost civilisation and that they've been sitting on top of the proof for thousands of years.

the bad guys ::
"big history"? the archaeological community has vehemently shot down any argument that there are pyramids hidden under the medieval ruins. and most recently, wikipedia

the evidence ::
well let's deal with the obvious: just look at the god-damned thing.

it's not exactly a rorschach blot

if someone asked you to describe that hill, 90% of you would probably say "it's pyramid-shaped". and indeed, that was what osmanagić said triggered his curiosity. nature has a way of shaping things, even things that stick out in the landscape. drumlins left by the movement of glaciers, jut out from the flat plains around them, but they maintain a rounded teardrop shape that seems perfectly in keeping with the natural world. sharp lines don't fit that pattern at all and in a lot of cases, the presence of landscape anomalies has indicated exactly what osmanagić says: there's something constructed underneath.

the response made by geologists and archaeologists is that, in fact, nature does sometimes break pattern and create sharp-angled, flat-faced hills known as flatirons. so there goes that argument, right?

well... maybe. no one disputes the existence of flatirons, but they don't tend to crop up in europe. the best known examples are all in the united states and all of them are leaning against part of the rocky mountain chain. in fact, one of the key features of a flatiron is that it is found on the slopes of a much larger mountain, which visočica certainly isn't. a search for "flatiron hills in europe" yields precisely one result:

also, from experience, just don't bring your flat iron to europe

[side note :: a detailed article about the bosnian pyramids in the smithsonian magazine cites another european example, the "russian twin pyramids", but that mention is the only one i could find of those hills that doesn't involve a claim that they're not natural either.]

even a well-known egyptologist who visited the site in 2007, after hearing that bosnia's "pyramid of the sun", if legit, was larger than the great pyramid in egypt, was unwilling to say for certain that the hill wasn't man-made, noting simply what everyone else had observed: it looks like a pyramid.

the ottoman bridge
but osmanagić's claims are undone in great measure by his own research. when he excavated underneath the fortress to obtain core samples from the hill, the geologists he hired to analyse them found that they were comprised of the same stuff as the entire area: soft sedimentary layers of clay, sandstone and other materials displaced by spring river flooding underneath jagged pieces of brittle crust forced up by tectonic movement and giving the whole thing its distinctive flat surface. [which would conform to the makeup of other known flatirons.] forensically, the debate ends there: as anomalous as european flatirons might be, if what's underneath them is explained by geology, then that's what they are.

osmanagić later claimed to have found evidence of stone blocks , which would constitute indisputable evidence of human construction if they were able to be verified. although osmanagić has claimed that this has been done, no one else has stepped forward to back him up on this. he has also claimed to have found a 12,000 year old burial mound [although it has produced no bodies] in the same vicinity as further evidence of a lost civilisation. his latest work involves the excavation of tunnels that he claims lead to visočica. [although the extent to which they're being "excavated" as opposed to "created" remains unclear.]

banja luka, bosnia's second largest city
a lot of opinions on the tale of the bosnian pyramids are swayed by opinions of the man responsible for finding or inventing them. osmanagić doesn't have a history [as many celebrity archaeologists do] of being caught fabricating evidence. indeed, he seems to pursue his passion for unearthing the history of his homeland with a fervour that would shame joan of arc. but there's no doubt that the pursuit of the pyramids has been lucrative: he's received significant sums from the bosnian government [during a time when the national archives has been starved for money to repair damage to its veriafiable collection of historical artefacts], as well as private donations, including substantial funds from eccentric malaysian billionaire vincent tan [before he moved on to buying soccer clubs for fun].

osmanagić's ideas are "out there" in a most literal sense, tied to new age theories of atlantean societies and contact with alien civilisations that would make even the most imaginative archaeologist flinch.

likelihood :: 0/10
there are no pyramids in bosnia. there is no evidence of an ancient lost society beyond the imaginings of the man who claims to have discovered it. the answer is in the evidence above: geology trumps the visual and thus far the only confirmed independent evaluation says that there is nothing to see there.

so why bother talking about it? well, it's partly because osmanagić has been so phenomenally successful in selling his story that it makes an interesting case study. it's like the music man [the 1962 musical probably best known for its reincarnation as "homer versus the monorail" in the simpsons] brought to life in eastern europe. he's engaged people with a fantasy, to the point where there are pyramid-themed hotels, restaurants and shops and flocks of tourists who come to experience the magic. there is something heartbreaking about a modern nation willingly gouging holes in its historical icons in pursuit of a dream.

waterfall in jajce
nor does the power of his arguments end in bosnia. the bosnian pyramids have garnered attention from sources that are by no means on the fringes: no less an authority than national geographic published an extremely even-handed article on the subject in 2006; the smithsonian article linked above dates from 2009. 

in 2011, osmanagić's group won a court battle against the increasingly reticent bosnian government to allow them to explore the site even further.

it raises questions of how far one must go in order to prove, categorically and beyond reasonable doubt that such a theory isn't true. even the exercise is a logical impossibility: it's a given that one cannot prove the non-existence of something, and that the burden falls to those who would prove that it does exist. court systems around the world employ the principle of reasonable doubt when determining the guilt or innocence of individuals, but in political discourse [and world history is political], our acceptance that absolute certainty is impossible abandons us. and that isn't without costs. money, labour and time are lost every time people argue that not every avenue has been exhausted. in the face of perfectly sound evidence, governments, the media, businesspersons, citizens and judges continue to be afflicted with what i'll term "x-files syndrome": they want to believe.

kravice waterfalls, located in europe's last surviving jungle rainforest. fuck pyramids.


as long as you're here, why not read more?

the world at war?

in my semi-smug but genuinely curious way, i posted a question on my facebook page earlier: how much of the world has to be at war before it counts as world war iii?

the first response i got raised the very legitimate point that this is the sort of question that gets answered by historians, once the haze of the present has faded. the other important factor is that people don't just declare war on each other the way that they used to. major powers entered both the of the world wars with the blessings of their own parliaments, whereas conflicts since world war ii have happened in coded language, sometimes circumventing the political process in the interests of expediency. president reagan never declared war on the nicaraguan government in the eighties, for example, but the united states was clearly in a state of armed conflict, even if most of the arms were being carried by their proxies, the contras.

whether or not we are living in a world at war is a tricky question. despite what…

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i keep seeing this ad for tictac candies:

am i the only one who finds the suicide bomber clown at the end a little unnerving? all the nice natural things like the bunny and the [extinct] woolly mammoth and the fruit get devoured by a trying-to-appear-nonthreatening-but-obviously-psychotic clown who then blows himself up. congratulations, tictac, i think this ad has landed you on about a dozen watch lists.

oh and by the way, showing me that your product will somehow cause my stomach to explode in a rainbow of wtf makes me believe that doing consuming tictacs would be a worse dietary decision than the time i ate two raw eggs and a half a bottle of hot sauce on a dare.