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Master of Scaremonies
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Tourists flock to Bosnian hills but experts mock amateur archaeologist's pyramid claims
Whether ancient man-made structures or natural formations, locals cash in

Ian Traynor in Visoko
Thursday October 5, 2006

In Bosnia's Valley of the Pyramids, only one man is king. Semir Osmanagic, new-age philosopher and amateur archaeologist, splits his time between Texas and Sarajevo, but these days is mostly to be found scraping away at a hillside 40 minutes north of the Bosnian capital.
It is here that he claims to have made the most extraordinary discovery of the millennium: Europe's only pyramids, dating back to the late Ice Age, exceeding in scale and perfection those of ancient Egypt or Latin America. "This is the most magnificent construction complex built on the face of the planet," he said. "These pyramids are so old and so unique, it's hard to compare them to anything else in the world."

The experts strongly dispute his claims. Mr Osmanagic, 46, says they are jealous. And at Visoko, an army of amateurs is busy digging up the hillsides to uncover traces of man-made structures that the Houston Bosnian insists date from a prehistoric cycle of civilisation rich in its sophistication and washed away "in the flood".

The locals love it. Farmers are turning fields into car parks. Coach tours are arriving from all over Bosnia and beyond. Cafes, bars, and hotels are doing booming business in what was a severely depressed Muslim town on the frontline of a war that ended 11 years ago.

"It's amazing, we've got 300 people here today. We've had more than 200,000 visiting in the last few months," said Haris Delibasic, a Visoko accountant who now spends most of his time at the "pyramids" site. "We thought these were just hills. Now we know they aren't."

Mr Osmanagic's epiphany occurred last year when he visited Visoko to research its medieval legacy. The town was a seat of Bosnian kings in the middle ages. Mr Osmanagic has been preoccupied with ancient pyramids for 20 years, touring central and Latin America, the Middle East and east Asia.

Experts say the verdant rolling valleys of central Bosnia contain dozens of natural pyramid-shaped hills. But Mr Osmanagic is convinced he has uncovered ancient man-made structures in the form of four pyramids just outside Visoko. He has dubbed them pyramid of the sun, the moon, the dragon, and love.

Sun, the first and biggest "discovery", is said to be 220 metres (720ft) tall, considerably higher than Egypt's Great Pyramid. Mr Osmanagic found that the four sides of the four pyramids were perfectly aligned with the heavens, facing north, south, east, and west, while the tips of three formed a perfect equilateral triangle. "The first thing I noticed was the perfect geometry," he said.

Mr Osmanagic and his dozens of helpers have conducted satellite photography of the area, thermal inertia analysis reported to reveal faster heat loss than would occur with a hillside, and radar research said to disclose the existence of straight and perpendicular tunnels inside the "pyramids".

The excavations have turned up intriguing finds - ancient, man-made "concrete" blocks of "exceptional quality, better than anything made today", and weighing up to 15 tonnes. Excavations on the "pyramid of the moon" have revealed terraces of sandstone slabs with small channels built in at regular intervals, apparently a primitive drainage system, as well as at least one subterranean chamber with stone-built walls. "Our working hypothesis is that all this is before the end of the last Ice Age," said the adventurer. "We're looking for organic material, wood, charcoal or bones that we can carbon-date. I believe that the world's history is much older than they teach us."

"Pyramidiots", scoff the experts, who are appalled at the leeway granted to Mr Osmanagic to dig up the countryside. A Bosnian university mining and geology department said the pyramids were natural geological formations. Mark Rose of America's Archaeological Institute denounced the Visoko amateurs as charlatans. Professor Anthony Harding of Exeter University, who is president of the European Association of Archaeologists, has been equally scathing. And prominent Bosnian scholars have written to the government demanding that Mr Osmanagic be stopped, saying he is turning Bosnia into a laughing stock.

But in a country nearly wiped off the map by Serbian and Croatian nationalists in the war of the 1990s, Bosnians are flattered to be told that Bosnia might just be the oldest European civilisation of all. "Let them dig and we'll see what they find," Haris Silajdzic, a newly elected president, said. "Besides, it's good for business."

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006
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