Pseudoarchaeology: ABC’s Nightline Demonstrates Journalistic Gullibility

On Friday night’s broadcast of Nightline (October 27, 2006), ABC once again demonstrated it’s lack of journalistic intelligence in its reporting of the Bosnian “pyramid” nonsense. In spite of many genuine archaeologists publicly denouncing Semir Osmanagic as a fraud who is putting genuine archaeological resources at risk.

The Nightline segment, reported by Nick Watt, called Osmanagic a “a businessman and part-time archaeologist” and romances him as a “raider of the lost ark.” Osmanagic was also recorded as saying, “If you’ve found stone blocks built by man, then it will be obvious for everyone that this is a huge man-made structure in the shape of the pyramid.”

Osmanagic’s main contention seems to be that the hill is pyramid shaped and the orthogonal jointing present in the bedrock are both evidence of man-made. There are a lot of reasons why it should be obvious to major media outlets like ABC’s Nightline that Osmanagic is decidedly not an archaeologist and not a scientist. Of them, failing to recognize orthogonal jointing in bedrock is one. This is a process that is fairly well understood in geology and can form a “ladder-like” feature in sedimentary strata with systematic joints that occurs at 90 degree angles and form during uplift and erosion. The very systematic, “ladder-like” pattern that I’ve seen depicted in some of the Osmanagic photos may be evidence of 90 degree rotation of tectonic stresses. The primary joints are created first by tectonic force, then the tectonic stresses over time are applied in a new vector creating a new set of joints at 90 degrees from the original. Imagine the force necessary to break a cracker in half, then half again in the other direction. For a more detailed explanation of the process, see Bai et al (2002).

The other main contention of Osmanagic as evidence of “man-made” is the pyramid shape of the hills. Honestly, the guy has to get out more. I’ve seen many pyramid-shaped hills in my life, some were even named “Pyramid Hill.” Moreover, the hill isn’t really all that pyramid-shaped when actually looked at. On Nightline, Osmanagic said, “the first thing I noticed was the peculiar shape of that hill. It had the perfect shape, the perfect geometry of the pyramid.” But when you look at the map overlay that Osmanagic’s own website provides for Google Map, you notice anything but a perfect pyramid shape.

In this image, the “perfection” of the pyramid is not readily apparent. Indeed, the corners don’t line up with the cardinal directions (see the Google Map compass in the lower left corner). From Visoko, the mountain does look like a pyramid. I know this not because I’ve been to Visoko, but the images shown to date are mostly taken from the town. Looking at the map above, the most pyramid-like side does face the town, and it would be easy to see how visitors could be lulled into the fairy tale told by Osmanagic. Perhaps Osmanagic even believes it himself. His credulity doesn’t, however, excuse his destruction of legitimate archaeological sites from Roman or other periods.

Finally, there are mountains that look far more like pyramids than the one in Visoko. The image below is example of such a mountain. Now, if we could only convince Osmanagic to move here and dig for ancient civilizations, all our worries would be solved. This mountain, you see, is on Mars.


Bai, Taixu; Maerten, L.; Gross, M.R.; Aydin, A. (2002). Orthogonal cross joints: do they imply a regional stress rotation ? Journal of Structural Geology, 24, 77-88.

Watt, Nick (2006). Ancient Pyramids of Bosnia? Many are Believers . Nightline, 10/27/06

See also: Afarensis: It’s Baaack! It figures afarensis would scoop me. I shouldn’t have spent so much time writing… <grin>


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