Ancient Pyramids in Bosnia?


One of the most fun gigs I have right now (next to getting to be a guest blogger on BB!) is working with the good people at Coverleaf, who produce digital editions of magazines. As part of my role there I get to read many magazine articles that I might not otherwise take the time to seek out, like this fascinating piece from the latest issue of Discover about a controversial archaeologist who says he's discovered massive ancient pyramids buried in some Bosnian hills. The image above is of one of these pyramid-shaped hills outside the small city of Visoko.

Pyramid Scheme by John Bohannon has a clearly skeptical take on Sam Osmanagich's bold claims that he has discovered the first-ever ancient pyramid in Europe and the largest valley of pyramids in existence. But Osmanagich is portrayed as a sort of national hero in Bosnia, and has apparently secured a great deal of government financing for his pyramid excavation project. Bohannon repeatedly tries to interview Osmanagich, including about his published claims of supernatural phenomena associated with the pyramids, but never is able to really pin him down. Osmanagich has been pursuing his excavation project and visions of national archaeological parks for several years, and it sounds like he has a significant following in Bosnia, but this is the first I had ever heard of any of this.

One crucial question seems to be whether flat plates of rock found at the dig site are handmade evidence of past civilizations or simply the natural remains of a 7-million-year-old lake bed. Wikipedia's not buying it, and frankly it all sounds pretty sketchy to me too. But clearly Osmanagich has convinced a lot of people that there's something to his pyramid theory.

There's some interesting clips on YouTube, like Osmanagich reflecting on the project, an enthusiastic ABC news story from 2007, what looks like a pretty large festival celebrating the start of last year's archaeological season at Visoko, and even a rap video of the "Bosnian Pyramid Community on the road."

The discussions I've read online about this seem to have fairly equal amounts of pyramid-believers and skeptics. I've been very impressed at the expertise that crops up in the comments section here, so I'm betting there are Boingers out there who can help me sort this one out. Is Osmanagich a rogue archaeologist who's seen a few too many Indiana Jones movies, or he is on to something with these pointy hills?

Pyramid Scheme


(Disclosure: I work on Coverleaf, the service that provides the digital edition of Discover and many other magazines.)

(Shawn Connally and Bruce Stewart are guest bloggers)


  1. I suspect this is another one of those cases where the interesting shape is apparent only from a certain angle.

    If the photo of that hill were taken from any other angle it would appear as it is – just a hill.

  2. I remember hearing about this a few years ago. As much as I’d love for it to be true, most of the experts have said it’s wildly unlikely. I’ll eat my hat if they dig a pyramid out of one of those hills.

  3. What we are witnessing here is the creation of a Bosnian founder myth.

    In country made up of disparate elements, the appeal to a mythic past will always resonate with a government struggling with a national identity.

    There are many natural features which mimic human activity, from river rolled cobbles that look like crude stone tools, to rock joints mimicking stone slabs, to geological features such as this one.

    A little while ago there was a post about paraeidolia (or seeing human faces in random arrangements of objects). This is a similar phenomenon, where natural and anthropic forms overlap, and we have the tendency to assume all is anthropogenic.

  4. It seems like the FIRST thing to do would be to take sonar image of the hill…that would tell you right quick whether the underlying rock is naturally occurring or not.

    But apparently “visible symmetric geometry” of the mound, and “precise orientation to all four cardinal directions” are more convincing for this guy.

  5. From that angle it certainly looks like it has man made lines to it whether it is a stone pyramid or an earthen mound. However, the two other pictures in the comment above make it look much less convincing.

  6. Apparently you haven’t been paying much attention to purely archaeology oriented sites, because Osmanagich is almost universally considered a charlatan and huckster by archaeologists.

  7. The really sad thing is that Osmanagich’s supposed archeological digs are quite likely destroy genuine artifacts. As I’ve heard it the site contains the remains of the original capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Bosnian government seems to be far more interested in the tourist dollars it could garner from having pyramids than that actual historic value of the place.

    So @ #5 the site could provide the founder myth either way. Its simply that an ancient pyramid with crazy new age connections would supposedly attract more money than a largely medieval city and the older settlements it was built on.

  8. The wikipedia link seems to be mainly a collection of experts affirming the general idiocy of these claims.

  9. Anyone can see it’s a sleeping dragon.

    Seriously, with no grain-based (agri)cultures there wouldn’t have been enough surplus laborers in all of Europe to build a pyramid in Bosnia.

  10. Is it possible? I don’t think it’s *impossible*, but the man himself worries me. Any real archaeologist would not accept the unrecorded destruction of other sites, and it seems his work is doing just that. His charisma coupled with a lack of conclusive scientific evidence — as well as his own contradictions — screams ‘con man’ to me.

    If he *is* performing an incredible fraud, I’ll bet he has a fast way out of the country for the inevitable day he is discovered. There are going to be a whole lot of angry people in the country. Someone may want to look into that.

    Of course, he may actually believe all this. Fanatical belief and charisma can go even further than simple fraud — there are examples of this in history. Unfortunately, those examples usually end quite explosively.

    If you ask me, to my unpractised eye, the valley looks like an ancient lake, and the shapes of the hills look carved by water. The force of water can create many incredible shapes.

    But, who knows? I just hope the government insists on more conclusive evidence before acceding to his demand of five percent of the national budget.

  11. It’s a pretty interesting place. I was there a few years ago and was mildly impressed, convinced… maybe not. There weren’t too many people there so I can’t really see how the tourist dollars are pouring in. You were required to have a guide take you up the trail to the excavated part though. Which for us was a 10 boy. I remember there being something with branches over laid on the rocks that might have been a primitive form of holding the rocks together. It is interesting that there are three hills that are all in a position that appears man made. I’m not decided either way at this point.

  12. just think what the world would be like today if they had chosen a different shape to bury their pharaohs under.

  13. Cold be hand and heart and bone,
    and cold be sleep under stone:
    never more to wake on stony bed,
    never, til the Sun fails and the Moon is dead.
    In the black wind the stars shall die,
    and still on gold here let them lie,
    til the dark lord lifts his hand
    over dead sea and withered land.

    I’m just sayin.

  14. I’ll be more precise, assisted by the words of that great American cultural anthropologist Samuel Goldwyn: “In two words, Im-possible.”

  15. Google maps:,17.679076&sspn=0.093362,0.221786&ie=UTF8&ll=43.996458,18.193102&spn=0.046618,0.110893&t=p&z=14

    I don’t see how THAT MUCH LAND could be upturned and cover two sides of the pyramid. I mean, I’m no geology expert, but just looking at Google Maps tells me that the SW area from the pyramid is backed by something like 8 square miles of land at around ~140 meters below the suggested top. Not only that, there are also areas that are an additional ~80 meters above the suggested top.

    Unless these are some sort of non-freestanding pyramids, like they just carved steppes out of the side of the hill or something. It’s between that and some lucky erosion for me (looks like there was already some worse SSE of pyramid). Who knows though, like I said, I’m just an idiot looking at some topographical maps.

  16. If he *is* performing an incredible fraud, I’ll bet he has a fast way out of the country for the inevitable day he is discovered. There are going to be a whole lot of angry people in the country. Someone may want to look into that.

    The grandest frauds are the ones that refuse to die even after they’ve been completely debunked by the scientific community, like homeopathy. For all intents and purposes the fraud (or more likely, self-delusion) HAS been discovered, but that won’t dissuade the true believers.

  17. I still say it’s a sleeping dragon. A spade-nosed dragon. See his little tail curled?

    Anybody know the story? Author? I can’t remember…

  18. @#1 Noen:
    +1 for the Star Gate reference, good to see other nerds out there, you certainly made my day…. :)

  19. Yeah, I think this was debunked about two years ago. It’s a hill with some Roman archaeological stuff on it. Old news.

  20. Reminds me of that section of Frank Zappa’s autobiography where he details his father’s elaborate theory about how all great science and culture originated in (his native) Sicily and spread across the globe from there; some people need to feel special about where they are from, and so a more-or-less ignominious backwater becomes the center of the universe, or in this case has “the oldest and largest pyramids on Earth.”

  21. I was on a UN tour in those parts in the mid-90’s, and no disrespect to the locals, but I met lots of poets and philosophers, ingenious farmers and people with good survival instinct. It was a good time to re-invent history and personal qualifications.

    Before they start claiming they have some buried ancient civilization under their feet, they’ll need to clean up all the garbage and debris from the road sides, and give the dead in the mass graves proper burials.

    If it wasn’t for the land mines and unexploded ordinances laying all over the place, it would be a nice country to explore.

    You would think the government has better things to do than ‘support’ the efforts of this whackjob. I’ve was interested in 2005 when this first came out, but when the guy started talking about ‘power apex and energy lines’ I shook my head, that country is a long way from the 21st century.

  22. I remember reading a lot about this story early last year and thought that the verdict was in i.e. the fella is off his trolley. I think insertfingerhere makes a good point about it being a nice romantic notion for a recently war-torn nation to cling to. It’s a source of pride and inspiration so people in the area won’t really give a good goddamn if it’s true or not, they just want to believe in it. That’s no excuse for staking your reputation on trying to convince the rest of the world though, we’re going to demand pretty solid evidence before buying into something like this.

  23. Yes the debunkers seem to be all over Wikipedia these days.

    As for the archaeologists – of course, anyone who opposes their point of view is immediately branded a fraudster.

  24. all these ‘experts’ debunking through the papers, no-ne was there to check it, experts from egypt were there sent by main egypt expert Havas, western experts are not happy and now just ignoring all thing…
    Mr Osmanagic is not giving in…more than 500 000 tourists they had in 2 years,….more details

  25. If this thing is really 12,000 years old then it was constructed by a pre-agricultural society.

    It would be a simple matter to estimate the amount of energy required to hew, move and place the blocks.

    There’s no way a hunter-gatherer society could possibly acquire enough calories to match the energy required to assemble it.

    Before any archeological evidence even needs to be addressed, it needs to be demonstrated that the surrounding land could even sustain the population required to assemble a construct of the given mass.

  26. @39, I don’t think that’s photoshopped. For one thing, the aerial photos show the site does have a more angular sides.

    @15, you’re right about the labor force. Could it be cut out of a hill–rather than built?

  27. I posted some of the photos from the “excavations” here:

    Any archaeologist worth their salt can look at the photos and tell immediately that it’s a natural formation. As previous posts have stated, Osmanagich is a charlatan, destroying both extant archaeological sites and some pretty geology to boot.

    It’s too bad that the fake pyramids get press coverage–Bosnia has some really cool real archaeology.

  28. #40,

    But then what do you do with the hill you cut out of the hill?

    TOAST @ 35 states the principal case against it. Ancient public works required huge agricultural bases to support them.

  29. Wasn’t this debunked quite a long time ago? Not that Wikipedia is a bastion of well-sourced accuracy, but their Bosnian Pyramids article references 3 reputable sources (including Science Magazine) from 2006 which dispel Osmanagić’s discovery. Wasn’t the debate on this over at least 2 years ago?

    Wikipedia article:

    Science Magazine article (sign-up required):

    British Archeology article:

  30. Archaeology is the lamest science there is. Everyone has all these theories that their incomes depend on evidence supporting, they can’t be wrong! If it isn’t suppressed for God’s sake (or rather for institutional Christianic dogma’s sake) it’s suppressed for the career of the archaeologist working the site.

    What revelations has archaeology as an academic discipline unravelled for us in the past century? This is the same “discipline” that brought us the “Race to White Imperial Culture” theory of pigment variation among homo sapiens sapiens, and continues to refuse mainstream acceptance of the pre-Columbian civilizations that were all over North America (for more check out 1491). Shit, they won’t even accept serious discussion of the discovery of Yeshua bar Joseph’s ossuary, let alone the genetic evidence that all non-African humans descend from a single line of maternal DNA.

    My point is this: just because Osmanagić is sensationalizing and mythologizing this geographic contusion does not negate the possibility that before the last Ice Age a pyramid was constructed in what is now modern day Bosnia. Only real investigation can do that, and I fear that archaeology as it is today simply will not accept a version of the past that does not fit their limited view of the events of the last 103,000 years humans have had the same exact structure. This means that any evidence to the contrary will continue to be discarded as simply that, “contrary.”

  31. eh? what archaeologists have you been hanging out with? Can’t be that same rum-sodden, belligerent bunch of wildly opposing theory holders I brawl with at the docks every Saturday night.

  32. AB5TRACT,

    Too bad it’s so late; I’m going to bed. But if you are here tomorrow I will be glad to argue that you don’t seem to know what you’re talking about. Humans in Europe BEFORE the last ice age? We’ll begin with that and let the laughter follow….

  33. @50

    Unlike many people, I do not claim to “know what I am talking about.” This is why I am not willing to say that humans were not in Europe before the last Ice Age. Just as I am not willing to believe that humans only migrated to South America via North America. While I cannot say I _know_ anything about the past, I will tell you that the last place I would look for an objective discourse is in Western academic archaeology. Their track record is abysmal.

    Anyway, if the pyramid were 12,000 years old it would mean humans in Europe before the last Ice Age, so I’m not quite sure what problem you have with my comment (which was saying you can’t disprove this as a man-made structure simply by proving that Osmanagić is sensationalizing and mythologizing said structure; you’d have to disprove that it is a man-made structure to do that).

    (Oh, and it’s ab5tract, not AB5TRACT. Stupid all caps boingboing)

  34. “(which was saying you can’t disprove this as a man-made structure simply by proving that Osmanagić is sensationalizing and mythologizing said structure; you’d have to disprove that it is a man-made structure to do that)”

    Or you could also disprove its age as a man made structure, showing it to be less than 12,000 years.

  35. Last word:

    “Europe is thought to have been colonized by northwest bound migrants from Central Asia and the Middle East. The expansion is thought to have begun 45,000 years ago and may have taken up to 15,000 years for Europe to be fully colonized.” Wikipedia

    How’s that for humans in Europe before the last Ice Age? What was that you thought you knew, now?

  36. Ooops looks like I had glacial period and ice age a little mixed up.

    Good thing I never claimed to know what I was talking about ;)

  37. ‘Unlike many people, I do not claim to “know what I am talking about.”‘


    I take it back. I do not want to discuss it with you. It would be too gruelling. I wrestled too many years with too many students who were PROUD of their ignorance, even arrogant about it, to ever want to do it again. I would, however, recommend Spencer Wells’s Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey to you for an excellent introduction to the history of our species — unless you are as pissed off at academic geneticists as you are archaeologists.

    ‘Unlike many people, I do not claim to “know what I am talking about.”‘


    I take it back. I do not want to discuss it with you. It would be too gruelling. I wrestled too many years with too many students who were PROUD of their ignorance, even arrogant about it, to ever want to do it again. I would, however, recommend Spencer Wells’s Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey to you for an excellent introduction to the history of our species — unless you are as pissed off at academic geneticists as you are archaeologists.

  38. @56

    Are you implying that Socrates was proud of his ignorance?

    True wisdom is to know that you know nothing.

    I am here to learn, and I am open to knew theories. What about that makes me so ignorant? The fact that when I said ice age I was referring to the last “cold snap” of the most recent glacial period, rather than the entire glacial period? Or the fact that I am well aware of an extreme ethnocentrism in the field of (academically accepted) archaeology? What makes you think I don’t respect geneticists when I specifically cited the Eve theory as an example of mainstream archaeology ignoring new developments? (I can see you prefer the y-chromosone derivation, but honestly, does this difference between us make me ignorant and you smart or just of different opinions?)

    Maybe my problem is more with mainstream culture than academic archaeology, but I do see one thing clearly: new and potentially groundbreaking developments are simply dismissed without discussion. Much like you have dismissed me for some perceived ignorance (that I sincerely hope you will enlighten me of). And yes I despise Osmanagich for doing shoddy research and tainting the possibilities of other much more legitimate (yet still highly subversive to the standard academic model) archeological findings.

    I’m sad to see you decided to take an ad hominem approach rather than address my core point, which was that proving that Osmanagich is an idiot and is doing bad research does not resolve the question of whether this pyramid is man made, or when it was made. Further, that I don’t have much trust for Western archaeology as an academic discipline after their responses to controversial finds in the Americas (which is to ignore/downplay those findings). What is so ignorant or unscientific about this claim?

  39. Arky,

    I had my students damn near memorize that book when it first came out. It was music to this old cultural determinist’s ears.

  40. ab5tract,

    I should have recognized the Socratic approach, but I encounter so few people these days who identify with him….

    You came in with both guns blazing, which led me to suspect that Takuan’s dockside metaphor was not far off, and that I would be engaging with an intellectual thug more interested in verbal combativeness than discussion; I see I was wrong and I apologize for misunderstanding you. Perhaps it was the gunfire that confused me.

    I don’t know which discipline you work, but I’ll wager it’s not one of the academic “ologies.” But if by chance it is, I’ll double-down my bet that it is not without its share of sheep, charlatans, and careerists. I am no archaeologist (I don’t like to get dirty in other peoples’ dirt), but I was trained as an anthropologist and have some respect for the diggers and scrapers, having known a few very capable ones. I don’t know if archaeology’s record of ethnocentrism is any worse than the other ologies that study our species, but somehow I doubt it; we have all had to swim in the same dirty water of racism.

    I have no interest in the man trying to pass off a geological formation as a pyramid. (Perhaps everyone in that unfortunate land should have a hustle.) It’s too silly to merit comment. So you can include me out of that discussion. My observation that hunter-gatherer societies do not have the resources to build labor-intensive monuments certainly goes unopposed by anthropologists and historians. And since it is also universally undisputed that agricultural societies did not exist before about ten thousand years ago, I feel safe in assuming it was not built by human hands. If anyone outside of Fortean fanatics have suggested otherwise, I have not heard of it. Archaeology’s performance, although far from perfect, is better than that of a stopped clock.

    Perhaps bravery is a stranger in the house of academe. You seem to think so, and are obviously disgusted by the diggers and scrapers’ history. But where then do the needed innovators and discoverers come from? I suggest they come from their own ranks, the young ones qualified both professionally and temperamentally to call “bullshit!” Name a subject science that doesn’t have a history of silly shits and stupid fools resisting the innovators and geniuses. The problem is, I think, in the nature of the sheltering institution itself, the modern multiversity; but that is another subject, one I am neither qualified to discuss nor interested in. Let he who is without sin cast the first Bunsen burner!

    The confusion over glaciations and ice ages is common and of no consequence outside of a scholarly paper. (I prefer my ice with gin and vermouth.) I merely noted that humans didn’t make it to Europe before the end of the last ice age. One could argue, I suppose, that Neanderthals built it, but…

    I didn’t say that you were pissed off at geneticists; I was jokingly hoping that you weren’t. My preference for Y tracing is exactly because markers can be traced. I have no quarrel with the mitochondrial model and don’t see why I should. Anthropology’s a big tent, after all. “Eve” is a cute idea, but cuter still is the thought that we’re all descendants of the !Kung, a beautiful people if there ever was one. How very far we’ve fallen up!

    I’m serious about the Spencer Wells DVD. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll bet you will love it. I wish we’d had it twenty years ago. I think it’s my favorite feel-good movie.

  41. Now here is my problem with this “pyramid” if it is 12000 years old, how did the top survive so well, it looks from the pictures, that it is relativly a peak, I would think that it would be more rounded off, from erosion, and then plant life would have gradually taken over it, causing it to be more flat topped, Not claiming to know everything, but my two cents on that, also to consider, is if this guy is clinging to a dream, it could be possible that those walkway-ish structures could be possibly either geological as sujjested, or possibly part of the medieval city that used to be in that area. Just food for thought.

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