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 The permit was granted, but then it was revoked for fear the excavations could damage an existing archaeological site on the top of the hill.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.

Robot discovers secret writing in Great Pyramid

pyramid, Egypt
The Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza has always sparked the imagination. Among its many mysteries are four tiny passages running through the interior. The smallest are only eight inches square, far too small for a person to crawl through, so what were they for?

As you can see from the cutaway above, two of the tunnels angle up from the King’s Chamber to exit the pyramid. Some researchers believe these have astronomical alignments. Like with all ancient agricultural societies, observing the heavens was important to the Egyptians. The other two tunnels seem not to go anywhere. Some claim they lead to hidden chambers, or allowed the pharaoh’s soul to pass out of the tomb, but nobody really knows. Now a robot has added new pieces to the puzzle by going down one of these tunnels and filming it.

Robots in the pyramids are nothing new. Robotic exploration started in the 1990s, when remote-controlled cameras on wheels rolled up the two lower tunnels, only to find them blocked by strange stone “doors” decorated with a pair of copper pins. One of the doors had a small hole drilled in it, and a new robot with a camera on the end of a flexible cable looked on the other side.

What it found raises more questions than it answers. The secret door doesn’t seem to have any way to open, and on the other side of it are hieroglyphs. Egyptologists are hoping the hidden message will explain one of the pyramid’s greatest mysteries.

Why is there writing where nobody can read it? And why is the back of the door highly polished? There’s also a mason’s mark on the stone that the researchers are puzzling over. Egyptologists are busy trying to decipher the hieroglyphs and are planning more journeys for the intrepid robot. For more on the technology behind the discovery, check out this post on Dr. Zahi Hawass’ website.

These are good times for pyramid studies. A satellite has detected what could be seventeen lost pyramids, and last summer the pyramids of Abusir and Dahshur opened to the public.

[Image courtesy Jeff Dahl]

Ancient art stolen from Egyptian Museum recovered by police

ancient art, EgyptEgyptian police have recovered four stolen statues, two of which were taken from Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, Ahram Online reported.

Two of the statues were among several items that went missing when rioters broke into the Egyptian Museum. The other two were apparently looted from somewhere else, perhaps an archaeological site. There were scattered incidents of looting from several museums and archaeological sites across the country during the January Revolution, and the extent of the thefts remains unclear.

The statues are all of bronze and depict important gods such as Osiris, god of the afterlife, pictured here in an image courtesy of user Rama via Wikimedia Commons. This is not one of the recovered statues.

The statues date to the Late Period, a period dating from 664 BC to the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. This era saw a final flowering of Egyptian art and religion before it went through a long period of domination and decline under Greeks and Roman rule. When the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, poor old gods like Osiris were slowly forgotten.

The thieves possessing the ancient art were arrested. Of the 54 objects missing from the museum, 23 have been recovered.

Egypt back in the tourist business: all ancient sites reopening tomorrow

Egypt, egyptEgypt’s economy was hit pretty hard by the recent political upheaval. More than a million tourists fled the country and much of the nation’s industry ground to a halt.

Now things are getting back to some semblance of normalcy and Zahi Hawass, who’s still Egyptology’s top man despite the change in government, has announced all archaeological sites will reopen tomorrow.

Luxor and its famous temples started reopening earlier this week.

While Egypt is hoping to draw back the tourists to help shore up its economy, the political situation remains uncertain and the U.S. State Department issued an updated travel warning on Egypt yesterday reiterating that Americans should avoid all nonessential travel there. The embassy in Cairo is on a reduced staff and only an emergency staff is there at the moment. A curfew from midnight to 6am also remains in effect for everyone, Egyptians and foreigners alike.

So it’s your call. the Egyptians need a bit of help right now, but with the volatile situation it may be a good idea to wait and see how things develop before buying any plane tickets. In the meantime check out the video to see what is waiting for you by the Nile.

[Photo courtesy Karen Green]

Tutankhamun statue and other artifacts stolen from Egyptian Museum, Zahi Hawass reports

TutankhamunThe Head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass, has posted some sad news on his blog. During the recent political upheaval in Cairo the Egyptian Museum was broken into and some artifacts were stolen. We reported earlier that two mummies were damaged but nothing was stolen. Now that the museum staff have been able to do an inventory it appears that during that incident the intruders also took some artifacts.

The most famous is a gilded wood statue of Tutankhamun being carried by a goddess, shown here. Another Tutankhamun statue was damaged. Several other priceless artifacts are also missing. A complete list can be found here. Dr. Hawass writes that 70 artifacts were knocked over or damaged.

Dr. Hawass also reports a storeroom near the pyramid at Dashur was broken into. There were attempted break-ins at a few other museums as well. No word yet on any missing artifacts.

The Egyptian Museum is on Tahrir Square where the Cairo protests were centered. Dr. Hawass and museum employees have been sleeping in the museum to protect it. On several occasions during the past weeks many protesters made a human barrier to protect the building. Sadly, the thieves took advantage of the confusion on the street level to break in through the roof.

The BBC reports that previous reports of damaged mummies appear to be incorrect and were the result of confusion over a couple of skulls that had been taken from their cases. Also, a group of suspects have been arrested and are being questioned in relation to the break in. The museum remains closed for an indefinite period.