For me Osmanagich played the role of therapist and seer. I first met him in London in December 2006 at a presentation he gave at the Bosnian embassy, where I was granted an hour to talk to him one-on-one. I had been the only member of the audience to challenge him about the validity of his scientific assertions. For example, his claims of having found human-made “pavement” on the pyramids continued even after a team of geologists from nearby Tuzla University led by Sejfudin Vrabac examined it and concluded that it was nothing but sandstone and a natural stone called conglomerate. After his London talk Osmanagich turned the tables and interviewed me. How old was I? Was I married? What did I want out of life? My “aura” revealed an inner turmoil, Osmanagich explained. He invited me to come back to Bosnia so he could show me the pyramids himself. I found Osmanagich’s charm and wit impressive, but I got no substantive answers to what I asked.
Scientists worldwide have questions for Osmanagich. Geologists in both the United States and Europe who have visited the site or studied the reports of others cast doubt on the existence of the pyramids, saying the four hills were created by natural tectonic uplift rather than human hands. The flat plates of rock that Osmanagich and a number of his experts—including an Egyptian geologist—claim were handmade at least 12,000 years ago are actually the natural remains of a 7-million-year-old lake bed, the dissenting geologists say. And archaeologists such as Harding point out that Europe was in the grip of an Ice Age 12,000 years ago, with civilization consisting of nothing more than small bands of hunter-gatherers.
The slopes where huge swaths of soil have been cleared away now resemble the stone-paved terraces of a Latin American pyramid, but that look, says archaeologist Brian Stewart of the University of Cambridge, may be the result of this recent dig, not the work of an ancient civilization.
If so many prominent scientists hold that there are no Bosnian pyramids, why is Osmanagich’s project so successful? One reason is that at the time of his return to Bosnia in 2005, there was a knowledge vacuum unlike any the country had ever experienced before. The legions of archaeologists who would have challenged his theory before the 1992–1995 war, says Cambridge archaeologist Preston Miracle, were not around. In the prewar years, “archaeology in Bosnia was truly world-class,” he says. But by the time of the war, many of these leading scholars had died, and during the war many promising Bosnian archaeology students fled, settling into permanent positions at universities abroad. Today, many experts say, Bosnia’s real archaeological record is, at best, neglected—and at worst, endangered.
To walk through Bosnia’s countryside is to take a tour through “an extremely rich record of human civilization,” Miracle says, one that goes back 40,000 to 100,000 years. For the past two decades, Miracle has researched human occupation of the region through the Ice Age, the very period in which Osmanagich has planted his flag.
Bosnia “has always been a crucial route in and out of Europe,” he says, so it is no surprise that the region has been continuously occupied since the days of the Neanderthal. Miracle and Tonko Rajkovaca, a native Bosnian and fellow Cambridge archaeologist, are leading a team of researchers in piecing together a map of who lived in the area, using clues found in the Bosnian landscape including a scattering of stone tools going back some 100,000 years. “There are still many gaps in our knowledge of the region’s Paleolithic history,” Miracle says, “and that makes Bosnia a wonderful place to work.”
Bosnia is also home to one of the most exciting archaeological finds of the Neolithic, a 7,000-year-old settlement of 3,000 people living in a village surrounded by battlements and trenches, perhaps larger than any other known settlement of that age. Archaeologists have known of Bosnia’s so-called Butmir culture for more than a century, but the extent of this earliest flourishing of settlement and agriculture was discovered only in 2002 by a joint German-Bosnian team. Ironically, it lies only a short distance from the newly mythologized hills of Visoko.
Today a good slice of Bosnian public funding goes to Osmanagich’s foundation. But apparently it is not enough. In an April interview in a Bosnian magazine, Osmanagich called on the government to devote $100 million to the pyramid project, pointing out that this figure is “only 5 percent of the federal budget.”
Visoko is just the beginning for Osmanagich. Evidence of the ancient civilization he is exploring can be seen everywhere in Bosnia, he says, and should be preserved and shared with the public through a series of “archaeological parks” across the country. One park will feature “underground stone temples”—simply shallow caves, according to the dissenting geologists. Another already features large stone spheres, “relics” of the earlier advanced civilization, Osmanagich says. These stone balls were weathered naturally, though, these geologists say.
Many of these supposed ancient cultural features lie uncomfortably close to established archaeological sites being studied by Miracle and others. And Miracle is concerned that “the real archaeological heritage” is crumbling. For this reason, the European Commission recently published a list of 20 Bosnian heritage sites that “urgently require conservation and/or restoration.” Pyramid mania is “a threat to the existing cultural and historical heritage of Bosnia-Herzegovina,” according to the 2006 letter of protest to the United Nations. Determining the true history of human occupation in the hills around Visoko may now be impossible, some of Osmanagich’s critics say.
In the chaotic jumble of postwar Bosnia, probably no one is busier than Sam Osmanagich. In recent months, while on a lecture tour through North America and Europe, he wrote and published his 10th book on the history of civilizations and still managed to find time to attend lectures and conferences back in Bosnia. In December there was the launch of a book of poetry dedicated to his work, written by one of his fans. In January he addressed a packed audience in the old town hall of the capital, Sarajevo, at the invitation of the mayor and was repeatedly interrupted by roaring applause. Such is the life of a national hero.
Now Osmanagich’s mission may be taking him beyond Bosnia—indeed, beyond earth. At least since the spring of 2007, the pyramids have been the site of a number of reportedly miraculous phenomena. In a lengthy editorial published in a state-run Bosnian newspaper last December, Osmanagich described a “healing stone,” high on the slope of the largest pyramid, that could lower blood pressure and heal back pain. There have also been reports of a crystal skull from a pyramid in South America releasing a “burst of energy” at the Bosnian site, an event captured by special photography.