Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An American in Bosnia

Visoko, Bosnia
Thursday, August 11, 2011

Yesterday I arrived in Bosnia after a 20-hour plane flight from California.

I was drawn here by the ancient pyramid complex discovered in April 2005 by pyramid researcher and author Semir Osmanagić.

Semir discovered four pyramids, which he named the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon, the Pyramid of the Dragon, the Pyramid of Love, and one temple, which he named the Temple of Mother Earth. The pyramid and temple complex is located in and around Visoko, a small town about 30 minutes northwest of Sarajevo. The monumental structures were able to remain hidden from the general eye because they have been covered by soil and vegetation (in some cases forests) for thousands of years, making them resemble hills or mountains.

My hosts are Italian researcher Nenad Djurdjević and Bosnian native Amir Suša and his family. Nenad is here for two weeks studying the pyramid complex, and I will be spending ten days of that time with him.

In my first 30 hours here, Nenad and Amir and I have had so many adventures in the field that it would be difficult to document them all in this blog. Here are some of the highlights:

1) Ravne tunnel labyrinth

Nenad and I negotiated several hundred meters of the tunnel labyrinth built by ancient people near the Pyramid of the Sun. The labyrinth, named Ravne, at some time in the past was completely (and curiously) re-filled with rubble: sand and small river stones and pebbles. Volunteers from all over the world are helping to excavate this huge tunnel labyrinth which extends for an unknown length toward and beneath the Pyramid of the Sun (and probably other pyramids in the complex) in meandering curves.

We were able to walk upright in most of the excavated tunnels we traveled, but at some points we had to crouch down. Once the tunnels are completely excavated (probably several decades from now), visitors will probably be able to walk upright throughout the entire tunnel complex.

At 11:00 p.m. on my first night here (Wednesday, August 10, 2011), Nenad and I put on hard-hats and chest-high waders beneath a waxing moon and entered the labyrinth. Our plan was to obtain video footage of a section newly opened by hard-working volunteers.

Electric light bulbs strung from wires along the tunnel labyrinth's rough ceiling helped us on our journey, but we also brought hand-held lights to help illuminate the tunnel and also to light Nenad as he gave his thoughts on the tunnels and the various artifacts found there.

After walking for three minutes or so, we arrived at the newly excavated section. We got down on our hands and knees and crawled forward (here the waders came in handy), trying not to get our cameras and flashlights wet. There was two or three inches of water in this section of the tunnel, leading to deeper water within. We slowly negotiated about ten yards of this water. After we obtained the video footage we desired, we turned around carefully and crawled back out to the biped-friendly section of the tunnel labyrinth.

One feature of Ravne that bears mentioning is its fresh air. Man-made modern tunnels -- mining tunnels, for instance -- are difficult to breathe in because of lack of oxygen and the presence of airborne particulate matter. Upon exiting the tunnel labyrinth of Ravne, however, one feels rejuvenated.

2) The Pyramid of the Sun

The Pyramid of the Sun, which at 220 meters is taller than the Great Pyramid on the Giza Plateau by one-third, is the most imposing structure in the complex in the Bosnian Valley of the Pyramids. It looks like a mountain covered with trees and can be seen directly behind Amir's house. Amir (or his ancestors) and his neighbors built houses at the foot of a pyramid that must have looked, and still looks today, like a steep-sided mountain covered by a pine forest.

Walking from Amir's house up to the bottom of the pyramid, Nenad and Amir and I traveled through meadows and fruit orchards, all on a steep upward slope mimicking the steep slope of the pyramid itself. This slope, called the "angle of repose" in archaeological writings, is material-specific; it is the angle that is formed when a pile of material is most stable.

On the way up the slope, Nenad picked the flower of an herb and explained that the soil on the Pyramid of the Sun is five degrees Celsius warmer than surrounding soils in Visoko and therefore supports herbs that do not grow elsewhere in this region. In fact, the unusual herbs growing on the Pyramid of the Sun, and on the other pyramids in the Visoko valley, are normally found only in a Mediterranean climate. I suggested that, to increase tourism to this still impoverished region, they government call a trip to Visoko a "Mediterranean Vacation."

At the foot of the pine forest, we spoke with a shepherd tending his 15 or so sheep. Actually, Amir and Nenad spoke to him, and I watched Amir's son, Mirza, throw just-picked apples for a very small, and very efficient, black sheepdog who enjoyed fetching apples as much as regular dogs enjoy fetching tennis balls. We also re-visited a small archaeological dig which had endeavored to reach the Ravne tunnel labyrinth by a different entrance but had so far not found the tunnel. The particular spot in the meadow that had been suggested for excavation had been found by an Italian georadar specialist, Vincenzo Di Gregorio, who had a machine using sound waves that could locate air pockets underground.

Finishing our scouting mission, we headed back down through various farmers' fruit orchards, leaving the sheep to their mission of eating native grasses and Mediterranean herbs, and returned to Amir's house, aka home base.

The next day (today, Thursday August 11, 2011), we again visited the Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun, this time approaching from another side, where a stepped path had been laboriously created for archaeologists and shovel-wielding volunteers and which is now in addition used by tourists paying 5KM (about $3.75 in U.S. dollars) to walk up part of the side of the pyramid mountain and visit various excavated and partially excavated sites.

We spent about an hour and a half looking at a partially excavated site that Nenad believes is the northeast corner of the pyramid. (I took video footage of Nenad and Amir discussing the site.) The northeast corner's location is in question at this lower elevation near the bottom of the pyramid because, from topographical maps, the corner coming straight down the massive pyramid from the top suddenly veers in a strange direction. It is theorized that this perturbation may have been from earthquake activity or tectonic movement or some other natural earth movement, or perhaps even asteroid impact.

After the mini-conference at the excavation site, we headed back down and then headed by car back around the bottom of the pyramid (on Visoko's city street) and returned to the Ravne tunnel site. Here we met the founder of the Archaeological Park Foundation nonprofit project, Semir Osmanagić.

Nenad and Semir have been associates for six years, so Nenad immediately launched into his theory on the perturbation of the northeast corner of the pyramid. The conversation was in Bosnian, so it meant that one of the four (yours truly) didn't know the specifics of what was being said. When Semir changed to English to speak with me, one of the four (Amir) was then in that position. :) Nenad and Semir are multi-lingual.

Semir is used to opposition to the project, based usually on the idea that ancient pyramids couldn't possibly exist here. But Semir explained that neither denial nor "belief" in the project mattered. It was not opinion that mattered but science. He has stated in several video and radio interviews that he doesn't want to spend time dealing with people's beliefs but would rather simply deal with science: the results of professional diagnoses. He has also stated that he established the fact of ancient pyramids in Visoko several years ago and is now interested in finding out the pyramids' purpose(s).

A meter or so of soil has been deposited over the last 12,000 years on the surfaces of the four pyramids and the temple. And sweeping pine forests cover the majority of the structures' surfaces. So it may be some time before the most important questions about the pyramids and their makers can be answered.

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