By Lucian Harris
Mayor of Sarajevo and other officials greenlight bizarre and potentially destructive project
Posted 15 April 2006
A Texan businessman says Europe’s earliest civilisation built four pyramids in Bosnia 14,000 years ago
LONDON. The bizarre claims of Semir “Sam” Osmanagic, a Texas-based businessman who believes he has discovered four pyramids at Visoko in Bosnia, are causing serious concern among Bosnian archaeologists and academics as official and popular support mounts for a five-year excavation programme, due to begin this month.
Volunteers have been invited to assist in the excavation of a 2,120-foot hill in one of the country’s most archaeologically rich regions, on top of which lie the protected remains of Bosnia’s medieval royal capital Visoki.
The prospect of their own Valley of the Kings has captured the imagination of many Bosnians desperate for a way to boost the shattered economy and raise the national pride of a country racked by conflict.
Opponents of the project are, however, horrified at the prospect of irreparable damage to an area they believe is important enough to be a tourist attraction without a pyramid, yet warrants further archaeological research. Enver Imamovic of the University of Sarajevo, a former director of the National Museum of Sarajevo, said that the excavations would “irreversibly destroy a national treasure”, while another Bosnian archaeologist told The Art Newspaper that it would be like “letting a group of amateurs dig around Stonehenge”.
Mr Osmanagic, 45, who lives in Houston, Texas, is a Bosnian industrial contractor with a penchant for crypto-archaeology and a taste for Indiana Jones, who has spent 15 years researching pyramids around the world. He was shown Visoko hill by a local museum director in April 2005 and obtained permission to carry out small scale excavations there. Geological and thermal imaging tests as well as the discovery of large stone slabs and tunnel-like holes led Mr Osmanagic to declare that the hill was a man-made pyramid. He ascribed its construction to the Ilyrian people who occupied the area before the Slavs, dating it to 12,000 BC, a conclusion that would make Bosnia the site of Europe’s earliest civilisation.
At the time, Professor Imamovic told reporters that skeletons found near the slabs suggested a medieval necropolis. “People were still living in caves at the time that Osmanagic claims that the pyramids were built,” he said.
Mr Osmanagic has shrugged off such dissent, couching the announcement of the discovery in colourful imagery, renaming the area as the Bosnian Valley of the Pyramids, and four individual hills as the pyramids of the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, and the Bosnian dragon. To co-ordinate the project he formed the Archaeological Park: Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun Foundation, which in January announced a five-year plan of work on the site, including excavation and “reconstruction” and immediate facilities for tourist access.
Mr Osmanagic told The Art Newspaper that the expected budget for the first year was around e300,000 ($358,000). Corporate sponsorship has grown rapidly and a series of promotional events have been arranged for the launch of the excavation on 14 April, set to include a concert by a popular rock group and a series of pyramid-themed art installations.
Meanwhile, Mr Osmanagic’s categorical insistence on the existence of pyramids built by an ancient Balkan civilisation has aroused nationalistic passions that have led critics to fear being branded anti-patriotic. The authors of an online petition to “Stop Osmanagic now!” identify themselves only as a “group of independent intellectuals”. They claim that Mr Osmanagic’s foundation, which is registered as an non-governmental organisation, has close links with the Muslim Party for Democratic Action (SDA), and point out that Zlatko Hurtic, economic adviser to the Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic, is named as an advisor. They also claim that the project has the backing of SDA politician Hasan Cengic, one of the most powerful men in Bosnia, who has been linked to the arms trade.
The Bosnian media and authorities have been remarkably uncritical, focusing mainly on the prosperity that the pyramids might bring. On 11 March, the Bosnian Federal News Agency ran a letter of support for the project from the mayor of Sarajevo, Mrs Semiha Borovac, who stressed that the discovery would bring money and jobs to Bosnia, and called on the citizens of Bosnia not to interfere with the project in a way that could make it harder “on explorers who are facing a brave and serious task”.
Opponents say that such blind delusion is a symptom of post-war Bosnia. “Our system is to blame, our institutions, which are not doing anything,” said Professor Imamovic. “It is sad that a dreamer is allowed to conduct on-field research without any control. This is the equivalent of letting me, an archaeologist, perform surgery in hospitals.”