Biggest Pyramid Scheme Ever – Maybe

Do the gringa’s dear readers remember Sam, the big ball hunter of Bosnia? Well, the gringa found the subject of ancient big balls so fascinating, she continued to do a bit of digging around (pardon the pun) in Sam’s archaeological projects. Ol’ Sam, aka Semir Osmanagic, seems to have made quite a notorious name for himself in the scientific community where geometric relics are concerned. The Indiana Jones of the Balkans has also claimed to have discovered pyramids in Bosnia.

First reported shortly after his announcement of his discovery in 2001, serious archaeologists where quick to label his find nothing short of buffoonery. Sam, true to form, soldiered on despite his naysayers.  He is fully convinced he has discovered Europe’s first ancient pyramids and it begins with Bosnia’s Visocica hill that lies close to Visoko, a Bosnian town almost twenty miles northwest of Sarajevo.

Visoko was once the capital of Bosnia during medieval times. Roman and Illyrian ruins can be found nearby as well as Neolithic relics. Perhaps, then, thousands of years ago, it was a thriving capital city noted by architecture similar to ancient Egypt.

Dubbed by Sam as the “Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun”, excavation began in an official project in 2006. On hand, in addition to Sam’s international archaeological team, were tourists, curious locals, journalists and, interestingly enough, beauty contestants from the Miss Bosnia pageant.

As days and weeks passed, volunteers and crew members removed enough earth to reveal what they claim to be a system of tunnels. Sam reported the tunnels to be constructed of sandstone blocks and man-made mortar. His best estimate on the age of the pyramid and tunnel network is around 2,500 years old. The project had not discovered any bones, pottery, charcoal or other artifacts that might have been linked to any ancient Bosnian civilization.

As tourism to the site increased, Sam increased the size of the site for visitors to explore. Other hills were soon named: Pyramid of the Moon, Pyramid of the Earth, Pyramid of Love and Pyramid of the Dragon. Locals say business is booming with cash laden tourists buying all sorts of souvenirs, eating at the cafes, and staying overnight at the town’s inns. How fortunate for a region that has struggled to recover from the brutalities of the 1990s. Sam thinks this positive turn of events is just what Bosnians not only need, but also deserve after enduring such suffering.

Sam recognizes that the number of archaeologists that scoff at his discovery is legion. Some have even attempted to get his dig shut down. Others worry about how it will harm the integrity of “real” archaeology. Then there are those who worry that there may be true historical value to be studied in the area but that Sam’s “wacky” pyramid scheme could inadvertently destroy the evidence as he focuses on “creating” ancient pyramids.

The press has given him mixed reviews. Among those getting on the Bosnian bandwagon are ABC, Associated Press, Boston Globe, MSNBC, and the Washington Post. Archaeology magazine, however, criticized the press for being gullible. Mark Rose, the editor, attempted to smear Sam’s reputation by poking fun of his claim that Mayans could have been the ancestors of the mysterious Atlantis civilization. Now, the gringa has seen theories bandied about regarding this and language is usually the link. That is a possibility I could find plausible.

However, Rose went further and accused Sam of believing that Atlanteans were space aliens from the star cluster Pleiades. Here, the gringa just shrugs. The problem with such an accusation is that there is no evidence one way or another of the existence of Atlanteans and therefore no way to prove or disprove their ethnic (or planetary) origins. I believe, then, that is an unfair accusation because once accused, a person has no way to defend themselves wrong or right. To me, it is an empty argument. I don’t dismiss the possibility of something I can neither prove or disprove as being a “crackpot” consideration. I just shrug and say, “Who knows? Big deal.”

Despite all of this, Sam remains standing strong against the haters and insists that the pyramids are, indeed, quite real. The Bosnian government also supports him completely and in 2011 gave permission for Sam to thoroughly investigate the hills/pyramids. Their reasoning is that they expect archaeologists to criticize Sam’s discovery. To accept Bosnian pyramids, they have to reject what they have been taught as traditional history. That is a bitter pill many will find too hard to swallow. The gringa understands.

Traditional history attests that 2,500 years ago ancient Bosnians were living in tents or caves and cooking by campfire. Evidence to this effect has been found in ancient tools discovered in exploration of caves and suspected settlement areas. To claim that man-made monuments on the scale of pyramids were being built just seems outrageous. Sam knows he must deliver extraordinary evidence to change the minds of skeptics. The gringa needs to understand the evidence that is available.

As excavation progressed, the “hill” took on the shape of a stepped pyramid. Many geologists, archaeologists and scientists of related studies conducted their own examination of the site. They concluded that the shape of the hill is naturally occurring, despite its resemblance to a stepped pyramid. The formation is called a flatiron formation. The European Association of Archaeologists went a step further and published  a press release claiming the whole thing is a hoax perpetrated for financial and political gain.

In direct contradiction to these scientific professionals are others who have thrown in their support of Sam’s pyramid scheme. The Geodetic Institute, located in Sarajevo, sent out a surveyor. His measurements reported that the Pyramid of the Moon is a step pyramid with three triangular sides and a flat top. The sides are oriented toward cardinals points  making it highly unlikely this is an accidental occurrence of nature. When satellite images were thermally analyzed, they determined that the pyramid structures’ pattern of heat loss showed that it occurred more rapidly than the surrounding natural hills. This gave way to the theory that the hills suspected to be pyramids are man-made and containing voids such as chambers and access tunnels.

Sam theorizes that ancient Illyrians constructed the pyramids between 12,000 – 500 BC and construction could have been ongoing over a period of time spanning multiple cultures and civilizations. A tunnel system spanning over two miles connects the three main pyramids. Sea levels would have been 1,500 feet lower than today so, although the tunnels contain water now, they would have been high and dry thousands of years ago.

During medieval times, a fortress sat atop Visocica. Experts who stand firm as Sam’s critics claim the ruins he is excavating actually belong to this ancient Roman observation post. The gringa leans more toward this theory than an ancient pyramid considering the purported age of the pyramid. If the pyramid was constructed between 12,000-500 BC, this part of Europe would have been covered by a sheet of ice almost one mile thick. Where would they get the stones? If they found the stones and required ingredients for mortar, how would they have been able to make the foundation stones connect with the earth? They would need to excavate nearly one mile of ice over a span of several square miles to construct multiple pyramids. Then they would have to dig a tunnel system into a frozen earth.

Now, I understand the desire for fame and glory. The gringa also understands the desire for a people, impoverished by years of civil war, to take advantage of a profitable project. I’m not convinced these are genuine, man-made pyramids that are thousands of years old. I do think they are newly man-made pyramids constructed atop ancient Roman ruins. And even though archaeological purists would scream at just how wrong that is, the gringa once again shrugs and says, “What’s done is done.” Now I’m more concerned with the humanity factor of the locals who are alive today. They would like to eat well, live comfortably and have the means to educate their children. If a crazy pyramid scheme can do all that and everyone is aware of the controversy, who cares? It can only be a hoax if the criticisms are suppressed. As long as they are openly published, it is buyer beware. Everyone is free to believe what they want to believe. And I still like Sam even if he is off his nut.


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Who Were Those Ancient Siberians?

An interesting Siberian archaeological site is the tittle-tattle of historians recently, squabbling on what ancient people get credit for the structure sitting on an island in the middle of  a lake. It’s over one thousand years old so Russians, as we know them today, are not the culture responsible for this structure. Who the heck needed a fortress in Siberia 1,300 years ago?

Experts have dated it to about 750AD. Situated in the middle of Lake Tere-Khol in Tuva, this high altitude lake location has some historians believing it could possibly indicate religious, astronomical, or imperial significance. The theories bandied about are that it is possibly a regent’s summer palace, a monastery or, perhaps, an observatory for the heavens.

Finding out what was going on in Siberia in the 700s is not as easy as one might think. A trip to Wikipedia (the source of all online knowledge, right?) reveals that Russia’s historical timeline inconveniently begins in 860AD with a record of the Rus’-Byzantine War. Wikipedia has let the gringa down.

Digging back a bit further, things get vague. One simply has to pick up a bit here and bob over there and put together a picture that, although still a bit hazy, can at least deliver a pretty good idea of who the heck was running the show in Siberia in the 750s.

The first stop on the collection route of ancient Siberian bits and bobs is linguistics. Author Rein Taagepera penned a book entitled “The Finno-Ugric Republics and the Russian State”. There is a single quote that sheds some light on the 750s mystery people of Siberia:

“Samic was previously considered a language with disparate dialects but is now increasingly seen as  a collection of half a dozen related languages that diverged some 1,300 years ago. They are spoken in northern Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula in the Russian Federation.”

Here, at least, Wikipedia did not let the gringa down. Wikipedia explains that the Samic language is believed to have its roots in ancient Finland dating from 1000BC-700AD. The Finnish-Samic link to this Siberian archaeology site is further strengthened by an observation made by Ludmila Koryakova and Andrej Vladimirovich Epimakhov in their book, “The Urals and Western Siberia in the Bronze and Iron Ages”:

“In the sixth-third centuries BC, their northern trade was oriented to southeastern Europe, but after the second century BC, caravans went to western Siberia, where the Sargat culture constituted the most powerful ethnic and political union.”

So, the gringa believes an actual cultural identity can now be assigned to ancient Finnish ancestors speaking the Samic language who settled in Siberia – the Sargats. Researchers identify evidence of this culture in the forested steppes of southwest Siberia near Russia’s fifth century border with northern Kazakhstan. Archaeological artifacts and burial remains show that the Sargats lived a horse herding lifestyle centered around raising sheep and cattle. A nomadic tradespeople, their wares were typically milk products, meat and textiles. Social structure, determined from burial rituals, reflect that women were regarded equally as men with regard to managing herds and local governance. Warrior status, however, was an elite status reserved for only the most wealthy and powerful males.

DNA evidence of remains also revealed a curious Iranian ancestry link as well. So, the Sargats were probably originally Finnish and eventually intermarried with other tribespeople living in Siberia, coming into contact through trade and war. Ancestry for Siberians can be traced not only to Finland and Iran but also to Turkey, Mongolia and China as well as traces of Viking influences.

Interestingly enough, the style of the controversial Siberian structure shows Chinese architectural influences. The official name of the site is “Por-Bajin” and is considered a mystery by the experts who have been studying it for decades. The name is derived from the Tuvan language and means “clay house”.  Sitting near the border of Russia and Mongolia, it is then probably no surprise to see a Chinese influence in the design.

Researchers liken the layout to resembling a typical Buddhist temple. This similarity along with its isolated location and the fact that the cultures of this time were nomadic and not organized in such ways as to see an imperial palace as something useful, causes the gringa to consider the monastery theory to be more credible than a fortress type imperial summer palace or astronomical observatory. Like Catholic missionaries who traveled to remote places all over the world and constructed missions and convents, Buddhist monks followed a similar tradition.

Another curiosity is that the structure lacks any evidence of a heating system, even one that would be basic and crude. Surely that, too, would rule out an imperial summer palace. Siberia, even in the hottest period of a summer season, would still be uncomfortably cool without any heat source within a dwelling. To try to survive a winter without heat would be a death sentence. So, even as a monastery, monks could only be in residence during the summer.

The gringa loves a good mystery and will certainly be eagerly awaiting more news and future developments regarding “Por-Bajin”. With the effects of climate change causing permafrost melt resulting in water levels rising in Lake Tere-Khol, the caveman and I better put it on our climate change related priority travel list to see it before the waters swallow it up!

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