Are there lost pyramids in Bosnia? Probably not.

pyramids in Bosnia, Visoko
For several years now, European archaeologists have been in a furor over a supposed lost civilization in Bosnia that built the biggest pyramids in the world. Scholars have dismissed the claims, made by Bosnian-American businessman Semir Osmanagic, as pseudoscience, yet he’s getting funding from the Bosnian government and was just granted permission to excavate over the objections of the country’s archaeological establishment.

Osmanagic is convinced a large hill overlooking the town of Visoko near the Bosnian capital Sarajevo is a pyramid from an lost civilization dating to about 12,000 years ago, when the region was experiencing the Ice Age. The hill is indeed roughly pyramid-shaped, at least the half that faces the town. The other half is a bit lumpy. In fact, if you look at it with Google Earth, it doesn’t look like a pyramid at all. Geologists say it’s a natural formation and that there are several like it in the region; Osmanagic says many of those hills are pyramids too.

To prove his point Osmanagic set up the “Archaeological Park: Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun” and since 2005 has been fighting for permission to excavate. The permit was granted, but then it was revoked for fear the excavations could damage an existing archaeological site on the top of the hill. This is a medieval fort with Roman foundations built atop a Neolithic settlement. Now permission has been granted again and the work will continue.

A victory for independent science against the narrow vision of academia? Not necessarily.

Looking at the photos on Osmanagic’s website on the pyramids in Bosnia, I don’t see anything indicating there’s a pyramid there. Most of the supposedly worked stone looks like other natural formations I’ve seen, the so-called “secret tunnels” could be from any era, and the few examples of obviously worked stone could just as easily be medieval. In fact, Byzantine records say there was a town here in the Middle Ages and it has not been found. The Bosnian pyramid team may be destroying a real archaeological site in order to create a fake one.Some of Osmanagic’s actions seem a bit fishy too. He claimed to have assembled a team of experts to work on the site and give him advice, including famous Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass, but many of them said they had never agreed to work on the site. Some of them said Osmanagic never even contacted them.

In an angry letter to Archaeology Magazine, Dr. Hawass wrote, “The discoverer of the “pyramid” in Bosnia, Semir Osmanagic, who claims that a hill near the Bosnia River is a man-made structure built before the end of the last Ice Age, is not a specialist on pyramids. His previous claim that the Maya are from the Pleiades and Atlantis should be enough for any educated reader.”

The claim has certainly created a tourist industry in the previously sleepy town, and it’s sparking interest in Bosnia’s past. So where’s the harm?

In an article in Science, Bosnian archaeologists lamented that funding and attention were going to the fanciful pyramid theory while the nation’s real heritage remains underfunded and underprotected. Some have even reported being threatened for speaking out against the project. The Bosnian Pyramids have become a matter of national pride for a nation still feeling the wounds of the bitter war of the 1990s. Osmanagic has made Bosnia the cradle of civilization, or as he terms it, “supercivilization”.

This is the sort of nationalistic chest-thumping that got the Balkans into trouble in the first place. Osmanagic is playing with fire.

New photos released of remote Brazilian rainforest tribe

Survival International, a UK-based rights group dedicated to protecting indigenous communities worldwide, has just released new photographs of an “uncontacted” group of indigenous people living on the Brazilian-Peruvian border. This is only the second time in two years photos of the isolated Indians have ever been released.

FoxNews reports the photos were taken by Brazil’s Indian Affairs department, which monitors various indigenous tribes by aircraft. Uncontacted tribes are so described because they have limited interactions with the outside world. Survival International estimates that there are over a hundred uncontacted tribes left globally.

The organization came under fire for creating a hoax when the first photos were released in 2008; the president of Peru even hinted that such tribes were an invention of environmentalists opposing Amazonian oil exploration. The myth of “first-contact” tribes also prevails amongst unscrupulous companies catering to tourists. Survival International’s website quotes Marcos Apurinã, Coordinator of Brazil’s Amazon Indian organization COIAB as saying, “It is necessary to reaffirm that these peoples exist, so we support the use of images that prove these facts. These peoples have had their most fundamental rights, particularly their right to life, ignored … it is therefore crucial that we protect them.”

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The Brazilian government is a believer, however, and has dedicated a division to helping protect uncontacted tribes. Many indigenous peoples of the Amazon have been the victims of disease or genocide (due to war or, uh, “eradication”) or displacement by petroleum companies. The Brazilian government is concerned that an increase in illegal logging in Peru is forcing uncontacted tribes over the border into Brazil, which could result in conflict.

Survival International reports that the Brazilian Indians appear to be in good health, as evidenced by their appearance (FYI, their skin is dyed red from the extract of the annatto seed), as well as that of communal gardens and a plentiful supply of food including manioc and papaya. The tribe was also recently filmed (from the air) by the BBC for the television series, “Human Planet.”

While there is admittedly a certain hypocrisy in buzzing uncontacted peoples with planes, the bigger picture is the necessity of proving their existence in order to save them, as Apurinã points out. Look for my forthcoming post on my stay with the remote Hauorani people of Ecuador, who had their first contact with the outside world in the late 1940’s. Over the last twenty-plus years, they have waged legal land rights battles against various petroleum companies in order to preserve both their land and their existence.

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Flight attendant pleads guilty to bomb hoax

It was a bad week for Australians, it seems. A naval officer was physically restrained on a flight to London. Not too long after, Matt Carney, a flight attendant from Melbourne, was sentenced to 18 months in jail in England. It was his own fault: he left not one but two(!) notes on a plane to London, “warning” of a bomb. Of course, he was working the flight.

The 23-year-old soon-to-be-former flight attendant is from Melbourne, but he’ll have a new home for a while. As soon as his Emirates Boeing 777 landed at Gatwick Airport, Carney was arrested. No explosives were discovered. One note was found in the lav, the other in the flight attendant’s luggage.

The note was “discovered” when Carney found wires in the lav. Though they weren’t connected to anything, the crew monitored this smallest of spaces. A passenger later found the note, which included: “We have the Taliban to thank for this.”

In pleading guilty to making a hoax threat (he denied endangering the safety of an aircraft), Carney said through his lawyer that he was stressed and tired. If Dubai to London wore him out, let’s see how he handles 18 months in the slammer.

Gatwick Bomb Scare

Gatwick AirportIf you happened to be at London Gatwick international airport at 6:45 AM on Sunday, you’re probably still mad.

United Arab Emirates flight EK 011 from Dubai was ten minutes from landing at London Gatwick when they found a note “implying there may be a suspicious device on board.”

Craptastic.

All 164 passengers and the crew were escorted from the plane (which is fine for them, they were probably about ready to get off anyway), but then the entire airport was shut down (!) while the aircraft and luggage were searched for a bomb!

Airport activity resumed about eight hours later and a man in his 20’s was arrested — no word yet on whether he was a passenger. Gatwick airport, as far as we know, is still there.

It’s arrived. New airline to charge by pound

Both The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News ran ads today advertising the purported new airline Derrie-Air, the new airline concept that charges for both the weight of the passenger and his or her luggage..

At flyderrie-air.com you can check out some of the airline’s deals per per pound, from $1.40/pp from Philadelphia to Chicago to $2.25/lb from Philly to Los Angeles. Weigh a lot and packing several suitcases? Tough cookies, you’re paying $700 to fly across the country. Small sized and only taking a carry on? You might get away with $300.

So for all of you who voiced your outrage at Robert Mann’s idea that passengers should pay by the pound, the jig is up; we’ve entered a new era of airline operation.

Or not. It turns out that the whole thing was a prank by Philadelphia Media Holdings “to test the results of advertising in our print and online products and to stimulate discussion on a timely environmental topic of interest to all citizens”.

No better way to generate buzz and fire up the passenger base than to start claiming airline fee strategies, right? I do have to give them credit though, their website is a pretty big kick. They advertise their airline as a “carbon neutral” entity because they’re planting zillions of trees in the Derrie Forrest as well as porcelain fixtures and gilded faucets in their aircraft.

You almost believe them until you read the fine print at the end of the page.