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Antiquities & Archaeology

Unesco to step in to examine so-called “pyramids”

Academics claim that the dig is “pseudo-archaeology”

Bosnia

Unesco is to send a team of experts to examine the impact of a Texas-based businessman’s search for pyramids in Bosnia. The secretary general of Unesco, Koichiro Matsuura, made the announcement at the beginning of June.

The affair has captured the popular imagination in the Balkan country but has infuriated professional archaeologists who say that it is detracting resources from other heritage sites, and may contaminate areas once they have been excavated (see The Art Newspaper, April 2006, p34).

The pyramid hunt was launched in April by Semir Osmanagic, a Bosnian building contractor based in Houston, who has a long history of dabbling in archaeology but with no professional credentials. He believes that there are up to nine pyramids in the area of Visoko which he has dubbed the “Valley of the Bosnian pyramids”, claiming that they are over 27,000 years old.

Much to the horror of professional archaeologists, he has invited members of the public to assist in the excavations on Visoki Hill close to the remains of Bosnia’s medieval capital. He has now started excavations at the Pljesevica Hill, which he has called the Bosnian Pyramid of the Moon, where he has found a possible wall and pavement. Archaeologists say they fear the contamination of any remains he uncovers, and accuse him of disregarding and even destroying evidence that does not suit his theories.

Mr Osmanagic has brought in a number of Egyptian specialists to lend credibility to his discoveries, but international archaeologists have been slow to visit the site. The first, Anthony Harding, the president of the European Association of Archaeologists, believed the hill to be entirely natural.

Pyramid fever has taken hold in Bosnia, where tourist revenue is one of the more realistic ways of repairing the war-shattered economy. Pyramid souvenirs proliferate.

Mr Osmanagic says the proposed Unesco visit is an international stamp of approval. But 26 Bosnian and international academics have sent an open letter to the secretary general, Mr Matsuura, dated 12 June. The letter accuses Mr Osmanagic of suppressing archaeological evidence that does not fit his theories, of misrepresenting the extent of his international support, and of running a money making enterprise rather than a scientific investigation. “Mr Osmanagic is conducting a pseudo-archaeological project that threatens to destroy part of Bosnia’s real heritage,” it says.