Saturday, June 24, 2006

Pyramids Of Air

People don't like the true and simple; they like fairy tales and humbug. ~Edmond and Jules de Goncourt

The Semir Osmanagic show continues. For someone who hasn't found a single piece of solid evidence that a pyramid exists under a hill in Bosnia, he certainly manages to get a lot of publicity. His so-called wall has been deemed a rock formation commonly found in Bosnia by everyone except his Egyptian “expert”. He hasn't produced a single artifact, much less a carbon-datable artifact. In fact, the only “proof” we have for Bosnian pyramids is Sam's opinion. Somehow, I find the opinions of someone who has theorized that the Mayans were descendants of Atlanteans who were themselves descendants of beings from the Pleiades to be of dubious quality.

Archaeology Magazine continues to try to keep people informed. Mark Rose has written a new update, and Beth Kampschror has written a longer piece, “Pyramid Scheme”, that appears in this month's magazine (an abstract of the article can be found here). Mark Rose's article raises questions about the Egyptian “geologist” (Rose has been unable to track down any evidence that Zahi Hawass sent him), other archaeologists who Mr. Osmanagic claims have visited the site (at two have not and a third doesn't seem to exist), and the fact that mainstream media is ignoring the reports by credible scientists who have declared that the rocks found so far are natural formations.

How pathetic is the mainstream media? Well, an AP story cited by Rose says that Osmanagic has spent 15 years study Latin American pyramids but neglects to mention that his theory that Mayans are of extraterrestrial origin. That is hardly responsible reporting. Other agencies, like CNN and the BBC, are writing the stories more as human interest fluff, but the average reader is not going to perceive the pseudoscience being prattled by Osmanagic if it's not pointed out.

Don Quixote Osmanagic tilting at alien-built pyramids would be humorous if it didn't have a tragic side. To begin with, he is quite probably ruining genuine archaelogical sites. But worse, Bosnia is a country that has no money to support its own archaeologists, scientists, and related institutions. In Sarajevo's National Museum, there is one expert left; the building is unheated in the winter and still bears the scars of war. Yet Osmanagic seems to be getting funding (although he's tight-lipped about the sources). He has sold the government a bill of goods that his finds will lead to some sort of “Pyramid Land” archaeological theme park that will bring in scads of tourist money.

In fact, it is only because of Bosnia's impoverished and chaotic state that Osmanagic can even attempt to go digging. Most of the time, pseudoarchaeologists do not get permission to investigate their off-the-wall ideas. They have to get approval from appropriate national agencies. But, in Bosnia, even though there is a central bureau protecting sites like those where the pyramids are supposed to be, local authorities can do what they want. The central government agencies have little power to stop them. In this case, Osmanagic bypassed those agencies anyway, going to the politicians with his pipe dreams.

In a country that has seen almost continuous war and persecution for the last 70 years, the idea of finding evidence of ancient civilizations based in Bosnia is very popular with Bosnians. They see it as a source of pride, and the vast majority of the population, according to surveys, believes Osmanagic.

I don't know that Semir Osmanagic is a charlatan. In fact, it's possible that he genuinely believes that Mayans come from the Pleiades via Atlantis, even though it's highly unlikely that the stars in the Pleiades, which are very young, even have planets. Sam ignores archaeological evidence, so why should he recognize astrophysics? But, his methods are dubious. He reminds me of the Bermuda Triangle guys, whose evidences are taken from each other's books, when they aren't made up altogether.

It's about time for the media people to start reporting all of the facts of this so-called discovery. Tell the world about Osmanagic's alien-descended Mayans. Point out that his Egyptian expert doesn't know that the pyramids, to the extent that any mortar was used at all, used gypsum mortar, not sand-based cement. Clearly state that no artifacts, beyond almost certainly naturally-occurring sandstone formations, have been found. Investigate his funding sources. In other words, do some real reporting.

And here's a thought for Semir Osmanagic to ponder. He is building up the hopes of a nation that is desperate for something to believe in. When, and it is almost certainly inevitably, it's determined that his Paleolithic builders, who never put up so much as a house, didn't seem to get around to building a pyramid, I hope he's got a very glib explanation or a quick way out of town.

I don't know what the Bosnian equivalent of tar and feathers is, but it can't be pleasant.

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