The Year of Pseudo-archaeology

In the last year, there have been a few stories that presented some bad archaeology and, since this is the last Four Stone Hearth of the year, I thought it might be useful to recap these stories with a summary of each that includes the primary assumptions and faults they rely on. I’ve included some stories that you might expect, such as the Bosnian pyramid and the Jesus tomb, but also at least one you might not have heard about. A bibliography with links for further reading will follow this article

The Bosnian Pyramid

For a brief summary of the Bosnian Pyramid debacle that is still playing out, see my previous post, The Bosnian Pyramid: a Brief Summary. This, therefore, will be a brief, brief summary!

The hoopla actually started in 2006 with Semir Osmanagic’s announcement that he had found the largest and oldest pyramid known to man, which was created by between 8,000 and 12,000 years ago –so large and so old it threatened to change the history of Europe and the World as we know it. And it would have. Had it been genuine.

But such is the nature of pseudo-archaeological claims: they provide much sensation and appeal instantly to the significance-junkies and mystery-mongers who want there to be something mysterious and, perhaps, sacred about the emergence and antiquity of man. This is why we see so many products for sale, particularly in the “alternative” medicine (as if there really are legitimate alternatives to medicine) field, that claim to have been “discovered by” or “known to” the ancients.

Osmangic was the guy that wrote a book which put the ancestry of the Maya as the Atlanteans. And, as if this weren’t kooky enough, he placed the ancestry of the Atlanteans as extra-terrestrial. The media (perhaps being the natural significance-junkies and mystery-mongers that they are) picked up on Osmanagic’s press releases and ran with them, without consulting with any genuine archaeologists. In spite of the press claims, Osmanagic is not an archaeologist. Not even close.

The reason the press was duped (and is still being duped in some cases) by the pyramid-claims is that the hill does vaguely look like a pyramid from certain angles (as do many, many hills around the world) and that there is some very interesting geology in the region that gives the appearance of manmade blocks. But the geology has been very well explained and understood, even before Osmangic and his “team” began bulldozing the hillside in what they refer to as “excavations.”

The main problem with this sort of pseudo-archaeology is that it is destroying a genuine archaeological site that has nothing to do with pyramids.

The Jesus Tomb

The tomb itself was actually discovered in 1980, but “rediscovered” in more recent years by Simcha Jacobovici who co-produced the documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus with James Cameron.

The assertion is, obviously, that this is the tomb of Jesus Christ, the Christian Messiah who was, according to biblical legend, crucified to death by the Romans only later to “rise from the dead” and ascend to heaven. The implication, therefore, is that Jesus did not ascend at least bodily to heaven and that there were remains left to entomb. Based on the inscriptions found on other ossuaries within the tomb, other implications were that Jesus: was married to Mary Magdeline; had brothers and sisters (some of whom may have been older); had a child; may not have died on the cross; etc.

The producer, Jacobovici, claimed in the documentary that this is proof of the existence of Jesus, making this, too, an implication for those that doubted the historicity of Jesus or for those interested in defending that historicity. However, the documentary doesn’t reconcile a few problems, most namely perhaps, the 600 to 1 claim created by a statistician and used in the documentary. In this claim, statistician Andrey Feuerverger concluded that the odds are at least 600 to 1 that the combination of names appeared in the tomb by chance.

Scientific American had this to say:

Scan The Lexicon of Jewish Names, which includes names from ossuaries, ancient texts and every other source available, and you will learn that the names unearthed in the so-called Jesus Family Tomb were among the most common of that era. One in every three women listed in the Lexicon was named Mary, for instance, and, at that time, one in every 20 Jewish men was called Yeshua, or Jesus. […]”I did permit the number one in 600 to be used in the film—I’m prepared to stand behind that but on the understanding that these numbers were calculated based on assumptions that I was asked to use,” says Feuerverger. “These assumptions don’t seem unreasonable to me, but I have to remember that I’m not a biblical scholar.”

Indeed, one of the biggest contentions about the alleged “tomb of Jesus” is that the names were common. William Dever who, until recently, was the Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, stated in the Washington Post article, ‘Lost Tomb of Jesus’ Claim Called a Stunt, the following:

“I’ve known about these ossuaries for many years and so have many other archaeologists, and none of us thought it was much of a story, because these are rather common Jewish names from that period. It’s a publicity stunt, and it will make these guys very rich, and it will upset millions of innocent people because they don’t know enough to separate fact from fiction.”

That article is no longer available online, but there are numerous internet sites that seem to quote it. I’ll include it in the bibliography as I did find it in the Lexis-Nexis database. The quote is accurate.


Adam’s Bridge

Also known as Rama’s Bridge (or Rama Sethu in Sanskrit) via the Ramayana written between 500 – 100 BCE, this tombolo connects India to Sri Lanka and Vedic legend says that it was built by Rama as a means to rescue his consort who had been abducted and taken to Sri Lanka by Ravana. The tombolo itself stretches approximately 30 miles and separates the Gulf of Mannar from the Palk Strait. Believers in Vedic mythology think the tombolo is a manmade bridge (the name “Adam’s Bridge” is the Western name found on early British maps), but science reveals something quite different of course.

The reason this shows up as a topic of psueud-archaeology is because the highest court of the state of Tamil Nadu, where the bridge resides, states that the “bridge” is manmade. This is in response to the Sethusamundram Ship Canal Project (SSCP), which is a goal to link the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka, a project that, upon completion, would cut about 400 km of shipping normally used in the voyage around Sri Lanka. But government officials deem the tombolo as a “divine” feature and one that is religious in significance, preventing progress in their region.

This is a topic that is linked very strongly to the Vedic Creationism of Michael Cremo, the author of Forbidden Archaeology, and I think I remember seeing it mentioned in this “text” if I’m not mistaken, but I no longer own a copy of it to verify. Regardless, Cremo argues elsewhere that man is millions of years old, and as Homo sapiens who possessed “high technology” or “high civilization.”

Adam’s Bridge is a geologic feature and not a constructed one, and it has been studied at length and satisfactorily described by geologists (Nityananda & Jayakumar, 1981). There’s no mystery to the Palk Straits. Tombolos are common in the world and the geologic morphology is ideal for one in the Palk Straits. Moreover, 1 million years ago the dominant hominid species was Homo erectus, who relied on Acheulean tools, hardly the technology capable of constructing a “bridge” across the Palk Straits. Various dating of the tombolo itself has been placed between 3,500 to 6,000 years ago, which puts the formation at a very recent age, geologically.

Bibliography

Cooperman, Alan (2007). ‘Lost Tomb of Jesus’ Claim Called a Stunt. Washington Post, Section A, A3, February 28, 2007.

Fagan, Garrett and Feder, Kenneth (2006). Crusading against straw men: an alternative view of alternative archaeologies: response to Holtorf. World Archaeology, 38 (4), xxx-xxx.

Garufi, F. (2006). World’s Largest Pyramid? or Hoax? (C. Dowell, Editor) Retrieved September 10, 2007, from Circular Times

Hawass, Z. (2006, June 27). Personal Correspondance with Mark Rose. Retrieved September 9, 2007, from Archaeology Magazine: http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/osmanagic/zahi_hawass.pdf

Headlines India (2007). Ram Sethu man-made, says Madras HC, June 19, 2007.

McGirk, Tim (2007) Jesus: Tales from the Crypt. Time, February 23, 2007

Mims, Christopher (2007). Special Report: Has James Cameron Found Jesus’s Tomb or Is It Just a Statistical Error? Scientific American, March 2, 2007.

Nandini Nityananda and D.Jayakumar (1981). Proposed Relation between Anomalous Geomagnetic Variations and Tectonic History of South India. Phys. Earth Planet, Vol. 27, pp 223-228.

Salt, A. (2006, May 29). Bosnian Pyramids: Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Atlantis. Retrieved September 10, 2007, from History News Network: http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/25850.html

Tabor, James (2007) The Jesus Dynasty Blog.

The Indian Express (2003). Rama’s Bridge is only 3500 years old: CRS February 3, 2003.

Bosnian Pyramid Loses Funds!


Not a pyramid at all but rather a “natural formation,” says the Bosnian Culture Minister, Gavrilo Grahovac. So they’re pulling the plug on self-proclaimed, “amateur archaeologist,” Semir Osmanagic, who, for a little over a year now, has claimed that the geologic formations as Visoko, Bosnia are pyramids built by people in antiquity.

If true, the “pyramids” would be the largest in the world. However, not a shred of viable evidence has been produced to support the claim, which seems to be just so much fantasy generated by myster-mongers and significance-junkies. Read some of the details and a link to the story below the guide.

I found the article in the “World” section of the Croatian online news site, Javno, the exact url is here.

And the Javno article was refreshingly critical of the Osmanagic claims. And, by “critical,” I mean they gave a reasoned account of the situation compared with the mass-media attention of about a year ago.

The Culture Ministry found the “research” conducted by Osmanagic’s team to be questionable and the collaborators of Osmanagic to lack the credibility needed to allow for continued funding of their “project.” Also criticized by the Bosnian government, according to Javno, is the methods by which Osmanagic et al presented their findings, particularly the fact that they routinely kept their data from experts in relative fields.

The Bosnian Culture Ministry consulted experts including those in the fields of geology, mining, archaeology, and cultural preservation and arrived at the conclusion that Osmanagic’s foundation was not acting in the best interest of Bosnian cultural preservation and that the foundation is in violation of archaeological regulations. The Ministry even concluded that the nature of Osmanagic’s registration with the Bosnia-Herzegovina Justice Ministry may be suspect and should be “looked into.”

According to Osmanagic, his reckless destruction of the site (which does have legitimate cultural resources of the Roman period as well as perhaps others) is justified due to the “positive image” he’s created of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the world.

Personally, I’d have to disagree, since the image being created was potentially one of ridicule among serious academia. But this recent position of the Culture Ministry is one to be respected and it’s good to see truth and reason win out against pseudoscience and woo. I don’t know if the Ministry’s protection can extend to lands that are on private property or controlled by local governments, but it is certainly having the effect of keeping Osmanagic’s band of woo-woo’s from destroying cultural resources on much of the hill. According to Osmanigic’s woo-woo site, they are resuming “excavations” as of 28 June 2007 on local government controlled lands.

One can hardly blame local governments from trying to continue cashing in on Osmanagic’s nonsense since it is drawing tourism to the region. And, to be honest, the current situation isn’t much different than that of a typical cultural context in the United States, where private land owners are free to allow looters and idiots to ravage archaeological sites, plundering valuable pottery and lithic artifacts while completely ignoring the more culturally valuable contexts of these artifacts. I think, however, that many local governments are influenced by whether or not they receive federal funding, which may impact how they are required to preserve cultural and historical resources.

Meanwhile, Osmanagic and his foundation of woo are the continued laughing stock of the archaeological community -or, perhaps they would be if it weren’t for the fact that they are endangering genuine cultural resources with their pseudoscientific endeavor.

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.




References:

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>

Pseudoarchaeology: The "Bosnian Pyramid" is a Natural Formation

Afarensis commented a couple of days ago about a report that UNESCO is sending a team to Bosnia to inspect the alleged pyramid, a.k.a. Visocica hill, which has been heralded by Semir Osmanagic, a self-described amateur archaeologist. “Self-described” is the term best used because his qualifications are dubious.

The story originates it would seem from Reuters which says in the opening paragraph:


BOSNIA’S mystery pyramid is to be investigated and inspected by a team of experts from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, it emerged yesterday.

It “emerged?” That’s the best they can do with regard to citing a source? I’ve sent correspondence to UNESCO and will report with haste should it reveal any official press release or useable information, but I suspect that it is likely the “emergence” of this story originates from none other than Osmanagic himself. He seems very apt to market his story and construct media hyperbole via press releases and pseudo-interviews.

It may not be enough in the end, however, as the world archeological community is beginning to respond with criticism of both Osmanagic’s assertions and his methods. Forbes.com ran this Associated Press story by Aida Cerkez-Robinson on Friday, June 9, 2006: British Expert Nixes Bosnia Pyramid Claim.


Professor Anthony Harding, who is president of the European Association of Archaeologists, visited Visocica hill and said the formation was natural.

“Not any evidence at all has been found” to support the claim the site would be an archaeological site, he said.

Cerkez-Robinson’s story repeats the description of Osmanagic that was used in the Reuter’s story and which irked Afarensis: “the amateur Bosnian archaeologist who has been investigating Latin American pyramids for 15 years…” And, like Afarensis, I point the reader back to the Archaeology Magazine article online, The Bosnian-Atlantis Connection, in where this is revealed about our amateur archaeologist:


And there it is. A self-described archaeologist, who believes the Maya and others are descended from Atlanteans who came from the Pleiades, has been accepted as a legitimate researcher by many news outlets. His ideas of early pyramids in Bosnia, which is simply not possible, has been accepted as a major discovery. How could this happen?

Harding, an archaeologist who has led excavations in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Briton, refuted the assertion that the stone blocks and “pavements” were man-made, stating, “I’ve seen the site, in my opinion it is entirely natural […] I would not believe it to be archaeological. It looks to me as a natural stone pavement.”

Bosnian Pseudo-archaeologist pulls wool over media eyes…

Bosnian Pseudo-archaeologist pulls wool over media eyes…

…and perhaps even my own, to some extent. I commented recently on the “Bosnian Pyramid” story with, perhaps, more optimism than skepticism a few days ago. But at least I was in good company. It seems that major media outlets were willing to print headlines like, “Scientists begin dig at Bosnian ‘pyramid’” (MSNBC), “Researchers Find Possible Evidence of Bosnian Pyramid” (Fox News), and “Dig for ancient pyramid in Bosnia” (BBC).

The real story seems to be how the media allowed itself to be duped. How the public is duped is understandable, we expect our major media sources to provide news that is fact-checked (okay, maybe we don’t expect these high standards from Fox…). Archaeology Magazine ran an article on 4/27/06 that discusses the media hype and points to some very questionable details about Semir (Sam) Osmanagic. In the earlier article on HOJ, I referred to him as “[a] Bosnian-American archeologist,” which is not exactly true. Indeed, it doesn’t appear to be true at all.

Apparently Osmanagic is what archaeologists commonly refer to as a “pyramidiot,” some one who finds undue significance in pyramid form and function and is a monger for the “mystery” surrounding them. Pyramidiots (different link) posit all sorts of silly notions like aliens built the pyramids at Giza, the Maya and Incan pyramids were constructed by a civilization that is related to that of ancient Egypt, etc.

These clues should have been more apparent in looking at Osmanagic’s site, the Bosnian Pyramid. He makes the pseudoscientific claim that nature is incapable of producing geometric shapes, which is echoed in claims that surround possible sites of Atlantis and the alleged “face” on Mars. He also presents his findings to the media, rather than for peer-review, generating a lot of hyperbole and attention, thus giving the impression of legitimacy.

The Archaeology article also quotes Osmanagic’s book, The World of the Maya, available online at www.alternativnahistorija.com. There, Osmanagic states, “The Mayan hieroglyphics tell us that their ancestors came from the Pleiades… first arriving at Atlantis where they created an advanced civilization.” He goes on to say that ancient cultures like the Maya, Inca, Sumerian, and Egyptian built temples that functioned as gateways to other worlds and dimensions.

Osmanagic offers as “proof of manmade” the “maze of tunnels” that he has allegedly discovered at the site as well as “stone blocks” that locals have been finding. In the 2 May 2006 news bit offered on his site, Osmanagic cites the fact that the pyramid has four sides that “match the points of the compass, facing north, south, east and west” as further evidence for artificiality. I’m starkly reminded of an individual that was making his internet rounds on sciforums claiming that Cydonia on Mars (including the “face“) was evidence of artificiality because of what appeared to be right angles.

The significance-junkie and mystery-monger will find no end to those willing to appeal to his sense of mystery or desire to find undue significance in natural coincidences. Maybe the Bosnian “pyramid” is man-made, but it doesn’t seem likely. Nor does it seem that there is a qualified and competent individual investigating the site for what genuine artifacts remain.

Pyramids in Bosnia

Pyramids in Bosnia

A Bosnian-American archeologist, Semir (Sam) Osmanagic, has begun a project to explore a 2,120 foot triangular mound in Visoko. The mound is called Visocica by the locals and excavations have uncovered what appears to be a network of human built tunnels.

The pyramid has been dubbed, “Bosanska Piramida Sunca (Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun) because of its similarity to the Pyramid of the Sun in the Teotihuacán Valley. Indeed, there are two other, smaller, pyramids, Moon and Dragon, which are linked by the team to the first and revealed by satellite and thermal imaging.

The Bosnian Pyramid website has numerous photographs and updates and includes the following:

…The hill is constructed using sandstone slabs that are buried 17 feet below the surface. Sandstone is not indigenous to the area, therefore the slabs had to have been moved to this spot.

…The shape of Visocica Hill is consistent with that of a pyramid, having four identical sides, with the exception of the front side which accesses a plateau. Nature does not make correct geometrical shapes like this and the rocks could not have been formed in this pattern by natural forces

…It is interesting that the blocks are covered with moss and so remain intact. Two blocks were discovered during the excavation we carried out and we can clearly see the sides of the two blocks and the area where they were joined together. We have done more cleaning on these joints and found that the sides between the joins are very finely ground.

Whenever I read or hear the words, “nature does not make correct geometrical shapes…” I’m immediately skeptical, since this has echoes of Bimini Roads or Yonaguni, where natural geology has mystery-mongers and significance-junkies convinced that a civilization flourished over 8,000 years ago to create monumental architecture that rivals that of Egypt.

Still, Osmanagic appears to have documented a fair bit of evidence that the site was certainly used by man. Whether it was entirely constructed or simply a set of natural features that were modified remains to be seen. I’m hopeful that this turns out to be a civilization that built architecture similar to that of Mesoamericans, since this could open a whole new field of study in archeology.