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Sam Osmanagich claims that 12,000 years ago, early Europeans built "the greatest pyramidal complex" on earth, in Bosnia. (Morten Hvaal)

The Mystery of Bosnia's Ancient Pyramids

An amateur archaeologist says he's discovered the world's oldest pyramids in the Balkans. But many experts remain dubious

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His views of world history—described in his books published in Bosnia—are unconventional. In The World of the Maya, which was reprinted in English in the United States, he writes that "Mayan hieroglyphics tell us that their ancestors came from the Pleiades....first arriving at Atlantis where they created an advanced civilization." He speculates that when a 26,000-year cycle of the Maya calendar is completed in 2012, humankind might be raised to a higher level by vibrations that will "overcome the age of darkness which has been oppressing us." In another work, Alternative History, he argues that Adolf Hitler and other Nazi leaders escaped to a secret underground base in Antarctica from which they did battle with Adm. Richard Byrd's 1946 Antarctic expedition.

"His books are filled with these kinds of stories," says journalist Vuk Bacanovic, one of Osmanagich's few identifiable critics in the Sarajevo press corps. "It's like a religion based on corrupted New Age ideology."

In April 2005, while in Bosnia to promote his books, Osmanagich accepted an invitation to visit a local museum and the summit of Visocica, which is topped by the ruins of Visoki, a seat of Bosnia's medieval kings. "What really caught my eye was that the hill had the shape of a pyramid," he recalls. "Then I looked across the valley and I saw what we today call the Bosnian Pyramid of the Moon, with three triangular sides and a flat top." Upon consulting a compass, he concluded the sides of the pyramid were perfectly oriented toward the cardinal points (north, south, east and west). He was convinced this was not "the work of Mother Nature."

After his mountaintop epiphany, Osmanagich secured digging permits from the appropriate authorities, drilled some core samples and wrote a new book, The Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun, which announced "to the world that in the heart of Bosnia" is a hidden "stepped pyramid whose creators were ancient Europeans." He then set up a nonprofit foundation called the Archaeological Park: Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun Foundation, which allowed him to seek funding for his planned excavation and preservation work.

"When I first read about the pyramids I thought it was a very funny joke," says Amar Karapus, a curator at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo. "I just couldn't believe that anyone in the world could believe this."

Visoko lies near the southern end of a valley that runs from Sarajevo to Zenica. The valley has been quarried for centuries and its geological history is well understood. It was formed some ten million years ago as the mountains of Central Bosnia were pushing skyward and was soon flooded, forming a lake 40 miles long. As the mountains continued to rise over the next few million years, sediments washed into the lake and settled on the bottom in layers. If you dig in the valley today, you can expect to find alternating layers of various thickness, from gossamer-thin clay sediments (deposited in quiet times) to plates of sandstones or thick layers of conglomerates (sedimentary rocks deposited when raging rivers dumped heavy debris into the lake). Subsequent tectonic activity buckled sections of lakebed, creating angular hills, and shattered rock layers, leaving fractured plates of sandstone and chunky blocks of conglomerate.

In early 2006 Osmanagich asked a team of geologists from the nearby University of Tuzla to analyze core samples at Visocica. They found that his pyramid was composed of the same matter as other mountains in the area: alternating layers of conglomerate, clay and sandstone.

Nonetheless, Osmanagich put scores of laborers to work digging on the hills. It was just as the geologists had predicted: the excavations revealed layers of fractured conglomerate at Visocica, while those at Pljesevica uncovered cracked sandstone plates separated by layers of silt and clay. "What he's found isn't even unusual or spectacular from the geological point of view," says geologist Robert Schoch of Boston University, who spent ten days at Visoko that summer. "It's completely straightforward and mundane."

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