Thursday, May 04, 2006

Of Bosnia and Comets

We've got filters for spam, spyware, and viruses that spread on the Internet. What we really need is a filter for idiocy. ~ Anonymous

Archaeology's online magazine has an article by Mark Rose concerning the Bosnian pyramid. I'm sure you've heard about it. The story is rushing around the Internet, having appeared on the BBC site, ABC, and even Slashdot. The short version is that a self-described archaeologist named Semir Osmanagic, or “Sam”, as he's known, claims to have found an immense group of pyramids, cleverly disguised as hills, in Bosnia. Sam is a Bosnian-American contractor from Houston, who fancies himself to be an archaeologist.

There's nothing wrong with having outlandish theories. The fellow who dug up Troy was considered to be a nut, until he found treasures (it was the wrong Troy, but he put everyone on the right track). On the other hand, we have Graham Hancock, who is extreme by his own admission. Hancock is forever trying to prove that there was a civilization 10,000 years ago that, among other things, built the Sphinx.

Osmanagic is going Hancock one better, claiming that the Bosnian “pyramids” date back to 12,000 years ago. Legitimate news services have, for some unknown reason, jumped all over the story. Even the Archaeological Institute of American (AIA) allowed Sam to place a call for volunteers onto their online listing, before someone woke up and quickly removed it.

The Archaeology article points out, politely, that Osmanagic is, well, a nut. In previous writings, Sam has proposed that the Mayans were descended from the survivors of (and you had to know this was coming) Atlantis. Seems the Atlanteans were beings who were descendants of beings who came from the Pleiades. For those of you who don't know, the Pleiades are a star cluster a long, long way from downtown Atlantis.

Well, if you're going to believe in Santa Claus, you might as well believe in the Easter Bunny, too.

It turns out that there's a little problem with Sam's theory of Bosnian Pyramids of the Sun. As noted, he claims they were built 12,000 years ago, a time, geologists tell us, when Bosnia was your basic glacier. So you've got a handful of Paleolithic guys eking out a living toward the end of the Ice Age who managed to find time to build pyramids bigger than those in Egypt.

To his credit, Mr. Rose is not advocating squelching these goofy ideas, as scientists did with Velikovsky's cometary Venus. What he is saying is that news services need to get the story right, and academics need to get cracking and make themselves heard. Many in Bosnia are up in arms over this inane project, partly because it makes the country look foolish, partly because Bosnia's scarce resources don't need to be used up in such a ridiculous manner, and partly because the project is liable to destroy some legitimate sites of Roman and medieval occupation.

But, of course, Sam is no fool. He hasn't tried to appeal to scientists; he went to the government and convinced them that the “pyramids” were a potentially huge tourist trap. Apparently, the Bosnian government was trained to the same level of scientific understanding as the geniuses in our own government. Hopefully, saner voices will be heard, but Sam's publicity machine has a heck of a head start.

As to the comet, there is one coming. I am amazed, given the fact that one of the channels that should know better put out a show a while back describing all manner of death and destruction that a disintegrating comet would cause on Earth (particularly Los Angeles, for some reason). Well, Schwassman-Wachmann 3 is coming apart at the seams, but it poses no threat to the earth. Given the ridiculous reportage on the Bosnian “pyramids”, I am shocked that the same respectable news sources haven't been playing up the potential for an entire mini-series worth of death and destruction.

Every time a new near-Earth asteroid is discovered, the media have a field day predicting the date it will whack into us (in fact, there's another one around right now). Why they're passing on this opportunity is a mystery to me. This could have been the biggest marketing deal since we passed through Halley's Comet in the early 1900's. When it was discovered that the tail contained cyanogen, an entire industry sprang up offering nostrums, gas masks, and various protections against the “potentially deadly” cyanide gas. The fact that the tail is so diffuse and the amount of cyanogen so small that you'd have inhale the entire comet to have any harm come to you was secondary.

Schwassman-Wachmann's closest approach is May 12. There is still time for Billy Mays to roll out his “Comet Protection Kit.”

That's one infomerical I think I'd be willing to watch.

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