Anti-Science

Pyramidiocy

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Pyramidiocy

I feel bad for skipping over a pseudoscience story from the past few weeks that I really should’ve covered here. I’m talking about the “discovery” of a “Bosnian pyramid” that the mainstream news was all over once it hit the AP wire — MSNBC, for example. I knew they were reporting it as fact, I was suspicious of it, but it just didn’t fully hit me how bad this is until the other day, when I Googled it to read up on the skeptical reports and had to search pretty deeply before I found one. Yeah, just one.

It’s inexcusable that someone searching for “Bosnian pyramid” is bombarded with nothing but pseudoscience, so I want to talk about it a bit now. If you’re just joining the game, the AP story hit the papers around April 15 2006. They reported that Bosnian architect Semir Osmanagic discovered a magnificent pyramid hidden beneath a hill in the war-torn country, complete with tunnels and polished stones. He estimated the size to be a third larger than Giza — 722 feet.

Had AP, CNN, the New York Times, BBC, MSNBC, or any of the other outlets bothered to do the very same Google search I performed, they would have found ample evidence to suggest that Osmanagic is a loon of the highest order, and it only would’ve taken them precisely .24 seconds. The researchers’ own web site (piramidasunca.ba) includes an easy to find interview with Osmanagic in which he discusses the origin of his research, which came about from noticing two pyramid-shaped hills. Personally, I’d be more interested in a hill that isn’t in some way pyramid-shaped, but okay. He goes on to suggest that from that initial observation, he became dedicated to proving his hypothesis, that there are multiple gargantuan pyramids hidden beneath the hills of Bosnia.

And who built these wonders? He says:

For now we have two very important indicators that pyramids were under water for several hundred years. Only such occurrence can be related to the melting of the ice at the end of the last Ice age 12.000 years ago. In other words, pyramids existed then already.

Roll that around in your head for a second.

So, what does anthropological evidence suggest the hairless apes were up to around that time in Europe? Well, relaxing a bit after that nasty ice age they just had, for starters. On busy days, our Mesolithic monkey men would learn how to bash things with rocks, eventually graduating to stabbing things with rocks. They would then eat the bashed and stabbed things. After thousands of years, they’d eventually learn to stab things with rocks from far away using a bow, something they either figured out for themselves or borrowed from their neolithic neighbors to the south. They would then eat those stabbed things, too.

And then they built three 722-foot pyramids of geometrically cut polished stone slabs at exact angles denoting mystical significance.

Sure they did. Good job with the fact checking, mass media.

Oh, and also? The pyramid builders came from Atlantis. Yeah, Atlantis.

Was that not enough crazy for you? Apparently, the Atlanteans first came from the Pleiades. Yeah, the Pleiades.

For further reading that the rest of the media did not do, Google World of the Maya, Osmanagic’s titillating study of the Mayan people. It includes such gems as this:

Let us consider the possibilities of travel without high technology and airplanes. And conveying the body from one place to another.

What is our body? It is a ball of energy (both the physical and the spiritual body). Particles which can be expressed by a given frequency. And different frequencies are just different kinds of information. We are, in other words, information. Our solar system is also information.

What, then, is travel through the universe?

The ability to transfer information (our energy identity), using the appropriate frequency, to another part of the universe. If we know how to achieve the right frequency and to hitch a ride on the right frequency, we can get to the desired point in the universe.

Interstellar travelers are information which resonates through the cosmos. The Maya were aware of this.

Yep. There’s really nothing else I can add to that.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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33 Comments

  1. Damn, I'm embarassed! I had come across the story in the "respectable" media and thought, "Oo! Neat-o! A Ziggurat in the Balkans!"

    It never occurred to me that some loon was making outrageous claims about this structure.

    I need St. Dogbert to come and excorcise my daemons of Stupidity.

  2. Not at all, Rav. The mainstream media we all trust on things like this reported it with a straight face and ZERO alternative viewpoints. The reason why I'm kicking myself for not bringing this up sooner is precisely because it is subtle enough to worm into the world consciousness as accepted fact — after all, why would you doubt a story about an archaeologist making a discovery, published by every major news source?

    So don't feel stupid — just get angry enough to spread the word that this is pseudoscience.

  3. In better news, the Vatican Astronomer declared Creationism to be the equivalent of paganism. It's only a small step from saying that to the Church excommunicating anyone who propounds the theory. Of course, not many Creationists are Catholic anyway, so maybe he thought it was perfectly safe to make that declaration.

  4. As I posted in this thread:
    http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=239

    What draws you to the conclusion the Bosnian pyramids are not manmade? The excavations have barely begun (the work will probably take many years to complete,) and we already have the stated opinions of Egyptian experts, that the structures are definitely manmade, and represent a crude or early form of pyramid. Enough material has been unearthed already, to make that certain. To see the pyramids in their entirety, will simply take more time and work.

    Remember, the pyramids of Central America and Mexico also didn’t look like much, until they were fully excavated and restored. Most of those pyramids remain overgrown in the forests, by the way. A casual observer would assume they were merely odd-shaped hills.

    Photos and other information coming from the Bosnian pyramids site have been regularly posted here:
    http://www.bosnianpyramid.com

    Please don’t be fooled by the sour grapes (bickering, politicking and misinformation in archaeological circles.) It would be wise for us to avoid jumping to premature and unfounded conclusions.

  5. What draws us to that conclusion dgplexus1?

    Well, the fact that the originator of this nonsense is a complete and utter nutcase for starters. Combined with the fact that aside from somewhat oddly shaped hills, nothing much else has been found thus far.

    Unlike the fully excavated pyramids in central America and Mexico, there's nothing suggesting that pyramids can be found underneath those hills. Nothing other than one loony archeologist. As far as I can tell, they've found a few paved roads (do they even know how old those are?), and a bunch of caves (that look very natural and un-manmade to me), and throw all these details together to insist that the whole mountain therefore must be a pyramid.

    Well, I'll believe there's a pyramid underneath that hill when it's been fully dug up. Until then, I say Mr. Osmanagic is full of it and making evidence fit his theory instead of the other way around.

  6. Hello exarch,

    Actually, it's not just paved roads and tunnels (or caves, depending on one's preconceptions.) As you can see in the video linked to below, other structures, including some vertical manmade structures consistent with pyramid walls, are already clearly visible.

    http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=261298

    I think the sour grapes have severely clouded the issues. Why cant people just wait and see? Excavations take time. Perhaps this will help explain the sour grapes: Mainstream archaeologists (with a few exceptions, such as the Egyptians,) were not invited to the party. Instead, Bosnians, with the help of volunteers, have taken up the excavation. This, of course, does not set well with some, and for others, the presence of such enormous pyramids in Bosnia doesn't fit with their preestablished worldviews. But isn't science antithetical to such luddite and provincial attitudes? Science is all about discovery, and formulating and testing hypotheses? In this case, let the digging go on, and we'll get a good look. I get the feeling that some naysayers are trying to undermine the funding, to prevent further excavations.

    Please do watch that video. I think it will be most interesting to see what remains to be excavated, given the tiny portion that has been excavated to date.

    Sincerely,

    dgplexus1

    (Dan Gannon, in Clackamas, Oregon, USA)

  7. dgplexus1 said:

    Why cant people just wait and see?

    Isn't that what I just said?

    "Well, I’ll believe there’s a pyramid underneath that hill when it’s been fully dug up. Until then, I say Mr. Osmanagic is full of it and making evidence fit his theory instead of the other way around."

    This is how science works: bullshit until proven otherwise.

  8. I'm sorry, but I don't think "So don’t feel stupid — just get angry enough to spread the word that this is pseudoscience" is compatible with "just wait and see." The former statement is the kind of thing that puts a stop to investigation, largely due to interest and funding being withdrawn. When I said "just wait and see," I was alluding to a much more neutral position.

  9. Well, history has known a number of fringe lunatics who turned out to be right.

    However, history has a lot more unknown fringe lunatics who turned out to be utterly wrong.

    So before running to the press with nothing but wild speculation and a crazy hypothesis (which is a trademark sign of pseudoscience), perhaps Mr. Osmanagic would have been wiser to gather some evidence first, so as not to be branded a lunatic in the first place.

  10. "It is my theory that the Maya should be considered watchmakers of the cosmos whose mission it is to adjust the Earthly frequency and bring it into accordance with the vibrations of our Sun… Their ancestors, the civilizations of Atlantis and Lemuria, erected the first temples on energy potent points of the Planet. Their most important function was to serve as a gateway to other worlds and dimensions."

    I'm not aware that Mr. Osmanagic has a character to assassinate.

  11. Character suicide is what this is about. It's what happens when you go out on a limb without evidence. It's what all the good hucksters do when they have no evidence to support their wacky ideas: they organise a press conference as a way to bypass the scientific process to prevent their ideas from being shot down by experts for having no supporting evidence.

    His character will be just fine if it turns out there really is a pyramid there. If not, well, we told you so …

  12. When the pyramids story first broke, there was already compelling evidence (the geometric shapes and their orientation, both with the compass points and with each other, as well as some stone that had already been uncovered,) and a whole lot of excavation to be done. This is how archaeology is done – you find something, you try to get interest in funding the excavations, to learn more about it as the excavation proceeds.

    As for the Atlantis stuff, I'm not so quick to criticize him. Many people, the majority in fact, have beliefs that are not supported by any evidence, whatsoever. (Religions, superstitions, etc.) Atlantis, at least, is supported by legends (from Greece to Central America, and elsewhere,) and there are undersea (off-coast) structures that may or may not be evidence of whatever. Atlantis isn't something I'm directly interested in, but I respect other people's rights to be interested in it, without assassinating their characters. The evidence, and the arguments, should be considered on their own merits, not on the merits of the messengers. Character assassination (killing the messenger) does not help in logical discourse; it is fallacious.

    As an aside, Atlantis isn't such a "fringe" topic, whether it is "lunatic" or not. This article reports that, according to poll results, 41% of people believe that "ancient advanced civilizations, like Atlantis, once existed." I try to keep an open mind, and not dismiss *evidence* on the basis of the personal beliefs of the people who found it. I try to deal with the evidence. Isn't that logical?

  13. Oops, I neglected to include the link to the article, reporting that 41% of Americans (not people in general) believe that "ancient civilizations, like Atlantis, once existed." Here it is.

    http://www.christianpost.com/article/20061027/256

    Should "killing the messenger" (character assassination) be an accepted part of scientific debate? Should it degrade to such pettiness as, "that discovery has to be bogus, its discoverer is a lunatic fringe [insert religion or personal belief here]"?

  14. Perhaps this will be of interest to some. The Greek legend of Atlantis, as is well known, is said to have come from Egypt. In recent years, the original Egyptian hieroglphic writing, carved in stone, telling the Atlantis story (or, the story the Greek version was based on,) was found. The Egyptians had a different name for it (sorry, I don't recall the name off the top of my head,) but other than that, it appears to be the same story. Some serious archaeologists, actually, have been trying to pinpoint the source of the legend, and there are several theories with some credibility, including an island destroyed by a massive volcanic eruption in the Mediterranean. Anyway, as I said, I'm not directly interested in "Atlantis," but I am generally interested in paleoanthropology, and the things we don't yet know about it. I think there have probably been many "Atlantis" type destructions of settlements/civilizations, as megatsunamis, earthquakes and volcanism do occur, as archaeologists are well aware, and is well documented even in the written legends/history of various civilizations. For what it's worth, Atlantis isn't actually as "lunatic" as many other common beliefs.

  15. Joshua, one point about Mr. Osmanagic's colorful language. He appears, to me, to be speaking metaphorically about environmental concerns (our current industrial or post-industrial age, and its harmful effects on the planet's ecosystem, versus what he views as the more naturalistic and Earth-friendly ways of the ancient Maya.) Colorful metaphor, like what he has apparently used in that quotation, should not be taken the wrong way, and has nothing at all to do with the presence, or lack thereof, of ancient manmade pyramids in Bosnia. Aside from his right to his own personal beliefs, no matter how "new age" or "lunatic" they may appear on the surface, and considering the use of metaphor (not to be taken literally, or used to malign one's character or intellectual integrity,) there are also political reasons he may have made such colorful, metaphorical statements, particularly to gain the trust and support of the Maya people, as he was exploring Maya ruins. (If I recall correctly, he spent a number of years doing this. Schmoozing isn't such an uncommon practice.) Anyway, the Bosnian pyramids have little to do with Mr. Osmanagic, anyway, as they obviously predate him, and stand or fall on their own, based on the evidence which emerges. If you choose to view Mr. Osmanagic as a nutcase, who cares? I'm interested in what's there, pyramids and/or whatever, not the man himself.

  16. Joshua,

    One final note about the colorful language in that quotation. Keep in mind that English is not Mr. Osmanagic's native language. Non-native English speakers, when speaking or writing in metaphor, often come across bizarrely to native English speakers. I've seen this occur in many cases. It often takes some effort to discern what the heck they are talking about.

  17. OK, I think I remember where I heard about the Egyptian hieroglyphic carvings being discovered (the ones that were the source of the Greek legend of Atlantis.) I believe it was presented in the History Channel's program, "Search for Atlantis." I still don't remember the Egyptian name for Atlantis, though I probably jotted it down somewhere as I watched the program.
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&q=

  18. P.S., If it wasn't that program, it was some other similar program, shown sometimes in the last 12 months, either on the History channel, or on the Discovery or Travel channel. Sorry, I don't possess a photographic memory; far from it.

  19. Might I add, it's a bit hard to hide something as literally huge as the Bosnian pyramids from the media, when an excavation project is being started. What were they supposed to do, work in silence and try to find a tarp big enough to cover it all? They needed volunteers, and funding, and the media helped them get it.

  20. Just another observation. In the article above, there are references to things like "Mesolithic monkey men." That is erroneous. Modern estimates for the emergence of Homo sapiens range up to 100,000 years ago, or more. We are Homo sapiens. 12,000 years ago is relatively very recent. Our predecessors, such as Homo erectus, had been creating relatively advanced stone tools far longer ago than that. My point is, the comments in that paragraph are way off base, from a paleoanthropological perspective.

  21. Regarding very ancient stone tools in Europe, this new paper may be of interest. Note, these stone tools, from Italy, are FAR older than 12,000 years old. Abstract below.

    Evidence of earliest human occurrence in Europe: the site of Pirro

    Nord (Southern Italy)

    Naturwissenschaften,In Press, 24.October.2006

    Marta Arzarello, Federica Marcolini, Giulio Pavia, Marco Pavia,

    Carmelo Petronio, Mauro Petrucci, Lorenzo Rook and Raffaele Sardella

    Some flint lithic artifacts were discovered in the fissure fillings

    of the well-known Pirro Nord site (Apulia, Southern Italy). The

    lithic industry, composed by three cores and some flakes, has been

    found to be associated to an Early Pleistocene vertebrate fossil

    assemblage. The fossil association contains a wide range of

    micromammals, including Allophaiomys ruffoi and Episoriculus

    gibberodon and large mammals including Bison degiulii and Equus

    altidens together with African elements as the gelada baboon

    Theropithecus and the saber-toothed cat Megantereon whitei. It

    defines the latest Villafranchian chronological unit (Pirro Nord

    Faunal Unit) in the Western European mammal biochronology. The lithic

    industry of Pirro Nord represents the oldest occurrence of the genus

    Homo in Europe as it is attributable to a chronological interval

    between 1.3 and 1.7 Ma. This supports the hypothesis that the genus

    Homo, with Oldowaian technology, extended its range in Europe,

    probably from western Asia, during the first half of the Early

    Pleistocene. The new discovery from Pirro Nord changes the chronology

    of the first arrival of hominids in Europe and offers new

    perspectives in the debate about the human dispersal in the Early

    Pleistocene.

  22. Sorry dgplexus1, but you don't build a pyramid with crude, primitive stone tools.

    If the claim is that these pyramids were built earlier than 12'000 years ago, you need to have human ancestors smart enough to make them around that time.

    Of course this poses no problem for the people who believe martians landed in Peru, or possibly Atlantis, and showed these primitive people how to do these magnificent things.

    It does pose a problem however, for serious investigators who have yet to be convinced there's actually pyramids there at all, let alone that a society existed advanced enough to build 'em. Perhaps it did, but if that were true, the consequences of such a finding would be far more extensive than the mere idea that there's pyramids in Europe. So until there's sufficient evidence, the current theory remains disappointingly unchallenged.

    As for the legend of Atlantis, it is suggested that it was translated by Plato from an older legend inscribed on a wall somewhere, and that in translation, apparently some numbers were incorrectly transcribed, and all numbers over 100 accidentally got multiplied by 10. Including the age of the legend. It seems very reasonable to conclude that Atlantis therefore was probably just the volcanic island Santorini, which upon exploding during an eruption caused a tsunami wave that was recorded by the Egyptians too.

    The highly technologically advanced nature of Atlantis' inhabitants however, was just storytelling by Plato meant to convey a message. It's very likely he just included factual tidbits to make the whole things seem more plausible to his contemporaries.

  23. > Sorry dgplexus1, but you don’t build a pyramid with crude, primitive stone tools.

    exarch,

    I wasn't claiming that. How did you get that from what I wrote?

    I was refuting the bogus timeline that is outlined in the article above – the "monkeymen" just learning to bash things with rocks, etc. That kind of thing occurred more than 2 million years ago, possibly much earlier, not 12,000 years ago. And Homo erectus stone tools, more than a million years old, are so "primitive" that the average human today would have a very hard time reproducing them. And keep in mind, stone tools just happen to be the technology that is best preserved. Wood, rope, leather, etc. are almost never fossilized. Yet that is beside the point of the evidence of the Bosinian pyramids, which in itself is evidence. Evidence of what, exactly, that remains to be determined. As does their actual age, which are, of course, subject to revision at any time. The 12,000 year figure, as far as I can tell, is just a rough estimate based on incomplete data. More data will obviously become available, if the digging is allowed to proceed, which I feel that it should. When the digging is complete, many or all of the doubts people have should be settled, and the evidence (or lack thereof) will be much better established.

    Paleoanthropologists believe that Homo sapiens has been "smart enough" (at "modern human" levels of intelligence) for far more than 12,000 years. Don't take my word for it, please look it up.

    Regarding what you just wrote about Atlantis, that seems like a plausible explanation. But I think that various events, preserved mainly in legend, have probably erroneously been lumped together under the "Atlantis" umbrella. I think that prehistory was much more complex than people generally assume, and that's one reason I'm interested in paleoanthropology. New finds, often surprising or unexpected, are frequent. The hominid fossil record alone is so sparse, that any new fossil discovery tends to really shake things up.

  24. Here is a bit of information, confirming that Homo sapiens existed in Europe far earlier than 12,000 years ago.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cro-Magnon

    "Cro Magnon" turns out to be Homo sapiens, known to have existed in Europe around 40,000 years ago. Actually, they had bigger brains, on average, than the average human today does. Perhaps they were smarter than the average modern human.

    As for the stone tools from Italy, 1.3 – 1.7 million years old, nobody yet knows, for sure, who made those. It certainly blows a giant hole into what people have previously believed, about the earliest hominids in Europe.

  25. dgplexus1, Osmanagic claims the pyramids are much older than 12'000 years (claiming they have been under water, and must therefore already have existed during the last ice age). This means that the pyramids must therefore have been constructed by people who only had stone tools available to them.

    (And while wood and leather don't generally survive time very well, bronze and iron do, and those kinds of tools don't appear onto the scene until much later).

    In my opinion, this whole excavation is long overdue for some age determination. For all we know, the whole thing was built in the middle ages, in which case it probably isn't even a pyramid at all. There may well be some really old stuff under that mountain. But my guess is it will turn out to be something really mundane, like storage cellars from some local monastery or something.

  26. > Osmanagic claims the pyramids are much older than 12′000 years

    They may be older than that, it's basically an open question. Cro Magnon (Homo sapiens,) for example, may have built them. We know Cro Magnon was in Europe much earlier than that. There is a general trend to assume that ancient peoples were particularly stupid and primitive, but new evidence keeps popping up which contradicts that notion. For instance, evidence was recently discovered that Neanderthals actually built houses, with post holes and all. I'm sure we'll be seeing more on this find, later.

    > This means that the pyramids must therefore have been constructed by people who only had stone tools available to them.

    Not necessarily. Throughout paleoanthropology, most of what we have is a lack of knowledge. You cannot treat it as a thoroughly vetted out field of science or inquiry, because it is just the opposite.

    > (And while wood and leather don’t generally survive time very well, bronze and iron do, and those kinds of tools don’t appear onto the scene until much later).

    As the Egyptian team has pointed out, the Bosnian pyramids are of a "crude" or "early" type, not necessarily requiring the same tools for their construction, that would be required for building the famous Giza pyramid, for instance. Different construction. Anyway, it's a bit too early to be concluding how these structures were, or were not, built. We've just gotten past the phase of proving they are, indeed, manmade (including manmade concrete block material, and worked stone. If I recall correctly, early reports indicate the presence of metals on the surfaces, which would indicate metal tools.) There's a lot more digging left to do. It's unwise, in my opinion, to make sweeping statements about the structures, until the digging is complete.

    > In my opinion, this whole excavation is long overdue for some age determination.

    They're working on that. They need to find things that can be directly dated, else they are limited to things like judging sediment depths.

    > But my guess is it will turn out to be something really mundane, like storage cellars from some local monastery or something.

    The structures (pyramids, tunnels, etc.,) are a much too big for that, unless it was a monestery of totally unprecedented size and scope. But then, pyramids are generally believed to have been religious sites, or to have had religious significance. So the Great Pyramid of Giza was just a crypt for an Egyptian monestery, I suppose one could say.

    I hope my posts have at least helped to dispel some misconceptions, and open some minds regarding the possibilities.

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