Monday, September 26, 2011

The Mysterious

Moon over the Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun

There are so many mysteries in the Visoko valley. Four huge pyramids and one long crescent-shaped artificially created mountain, the Temple of Mother Earth, bring us to this question: why? And for that matter, who?

But the monumental above-ground structures are not all.

One of many passageways in Ravne Tunnel Labyrinth.

We don't know who built Ravne, the extensive tunnel labyrinth beneath the pyramids that meanders for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of kilometers beneath the ground surface, a labyrinth that may connect with passages inside the pyramids themselves. We don't know who built Ravne, and we don't know why such an incredible geo-engineering feat was undertaken.

Volunteer János removing "fill-in material" from Ravne tunnel labyrinth.

But most mysterious of all is that we don't know why the Ravne tunnel labyrinth was later filled in with sand and river stones -- filled to the brim, leaving only the underground water channels open but still sealed from view for thousands of years until modern excavation could bring them to (artificial) light.

Underground water channel. The water is still drinkable after thousands of years.

Who filled the tunnel in with sand and river stones? Was it the culture that built the tunnel or a subsequent culture? Who spend decades moving millions of tons of material to fill in a beautifully (and presumably purposefully) constructed tunnel system? Was this culture trying to hide something in the tunnel? Or -- more likely, to my mind -- were they using the material to protect the water channels? What is the water channels' purpose?

Dry-stack wall thousands of years old next to water channel in Ravne tunnel labyrinth.

How did they create vertical "dry-stack" (mortar-free) walls standing several meters high that lasted thousands of years without one stone out of place?

So many mysteries. Thank goodness.

March 31, 2012

Discoverer of the Bosnian Pyramid complex Semir Osmanagich gives us the latest information on Ravne tunnel labyrinth.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tombstones and Pyramids

Visoko, Bosnia
Wednesday, September 21, 2011

You can still feel the war: the bullets, the landmines blowing children to kingdom come, the mortar barrages in the hate-filled night. But nature is reclaiming the buildings and streets at her usual pace: slowly but inexorably. Dark green plants of uncounted varieties spread their soft stems and leaves across jagged concrete scars.

Cemeteries lie just above the flood plain at the base of the Pyramid of the Sun in Visoko, Bosnia. Walking south toward Sarajevo, the cemeteries are on the hill to your right, and River Fojnica is on your left, deep in the valley. Someone told me that they remember looking at the river one day during the war and seeing fifteen bodies floating down it.

On the far side of the river stands the Bosnian Pyramid of the Moon, Bosanska Piramida Mjeseca. This pyramid, standing at 190 meters, is the second tallest pyramid on earth. The tallest pyramid on earth, the Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun (Bosanska Piramida Sunca), reaches 220 meters into the sky. Below it, cemetery tombstones -- white, grey, and black -- stand as reminders of individual lives.

The great pyramids of the Visoko valley -- the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon, the Pyramid of the Dragon, the Pyramid of Love -- all of them at least 10,000 years old, stand . . . why?

A Train to Sarajevo

Visoko, Bosnia
Monday, August 29, 2011

The Visoko train station can be found by leaving your hotel in the center of town and crossing River Fojnica, staying left, and locating a cobblestone street on your right.

Onto this street you turn and walk 30 meters until it dead-ends into the railroad tracks. Here you find an old building (train station?) that is boarded up. To its right is another building which may or may not be open and which, open or not, is the administrative part of the "train station."

On the day I arrived there, there happened to be a woman outside the station washing some items in an outdoor sink with a perpetual small river of water running out of a long rubber faucet. Upon inquiry of this woman, I discovered that the train station in operation can be found by walking north.

Following her point, I walked for two minutes, or so, and passed a train so old it would never move again.

After another 25 meters, I entered the new station, a single-room building with enough space for four people to stand comfortably and two to sit at desks.

At one of these desks was a woman who was busy in a conversation with her colleague. Once I caught her eye, she brought out several items from her desk. (She did this laboriously, to my mind. Why not just keep everything on the desk?)

Of the items she brought out, one was a book of receipts. She was unable to find a pen, so I lent her mine. She filled out the receipt, stamped it three times, took my 4.6 KM (about $3.15), and handed me the receipt, which evidently was my ticket.

I pointed at the clock and said "malo"? -- indicating my wish, by the word "little," that the train would not be too long. She held up her thumb. (The thumb, not the index finger, stands for "one" in Eastern Europe.) "One o'clock?" I said. Yes. A mere hour and 20 minutes' wait.

I waited outside in the heat with several wild dogs who turned out to be not so wild but simply homeless. They spent their time sleeping in the shade, and I spent my time watching them.

The train came about 15 minutes early. I was not there. After half an hour in the heat, I had gone down to the river to wait. The train arrived quietly, so it was only by chance that I saw it. I ran toward it but was not able to run the whole way, because at one point the path became thin right next to some ancient barbed wire fencing. I walked carefully for 5 meters, or so, not knowing if I would miss the train. In fact, the train pulled out a few seconds after I got on, and we headed to Sarajevo 15 minutes early.


The photos above were taken three weeks later.

I had wanted to take photos of the abandoned train, so in the late morning on Thursday, September 22, 2011, I retraced my steps to the train station.

I set up the tripod, took a photo, and as I was picking up the tripod, a young man on a bicycle went past. I said "Zdravo," and he returned the greeting. He spoke a sentence or two in Bosnian. I said, "Engleski?" He said, "A little."

It turned out that Elvir knew more than a little English. He understood me perfectly. He asked if I was a professional photographer, and I went into a long explanation which he summed up with "Hobby." I nodded.

He told me a story of growing up as a child during the war in the early '90s. He and four playmates were playing around and under the train, and Serbian snipers from a hill about a mile away were shooting at them. None of the children were killed. "Right here?" I asked. "Yes," he said. "Their bullets could reach this far?" I asked. "They were snipers," he said. "They were all over the hills."

He said there used to be a lot of trains, but now there were only two or three a day. "Why?" He said no one rode the train anymore because of the economy. He said that even people who ride the train usually cannot afford to buy a ticket, so they either pay nothing or pay one KM (a bit less than a dollar). I told him that I had taken the train to Sarajevo three weeks before, and he laughed and said I was probably the only one who had bought a ticket.

Suddenly I knew why the ticket lady had kept her ticket book in a drawer. She had also given me my pen back.

"Is that a computer?"

Visoko, Bosnia
Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina live in a different time. I bring modern time with me and buzz around town like a super-gofer on my archaeological missions. It's like the Star Trek episode in which the aliens move so much faster than Kirk, Spock, and McCoy that the frenetic aliens are invisible and their voices sound like mosquitoes in human ears. Of course, Visoko, where the pyramids and I reside, is a very small town. Sarajevo, a bustling metropolis 30 minutes southeast of us, has been infected by the Western mosquito virus. But even here the old culture remains. Arriving at the Sarajevo airport after a 20-hour journey from the U.S., I picked up my bags and began to head toward the exit.

Plane ticket from Chicago to Munich
One of three officers studied my baggage, all of which was stacked on an excellent old (and free) cart. He focused on a huge box containing my non-portable Macintosh. On this box was a nearly life-sized picture of an iMac. He said, "Is that a computer?" I stopped the cart and said, "Yes." Wanting to offer more, I stated the obvious: "A Macintosh." I was ready to produce my shirt-pocket-secreted baggage claim checks, as all good Westerners are, but he just nodded me past. 

Baggage claim checks for flight from Chicago to Sarajevo

Canary in the Tunnels

Salko and volunteer Maya outside of Ravne tunnel labyrinth

Visoko, Bosnia
Friday, August 19, 2011

Salko is perhaps 80 years old, short, bent, and strong. Some time in the distant past he agreed to pull ancient carts full of rubble a third of a kilometer through the Ravne tunnel labyrinth, up a significant outdoor incline, and across a road to be dumped. On my first day in Ravne, I was shoveling at the head of the tunnel, far into the earth. There is room for only one shoveler here, and Salko waited patiently while I filled the first cart of the day, around 9:30 a.m. I was singing, and Salko said something in Bosnian to his cart-pusher, Maja, a lanky young bilingual woman approximately a third taller and several times younger than her wizened associate. Maya said, "Salko just said, 'Let's see if he's still singing at 3 o'clock.'" . . . Of course, I was. :)

Salko and volunteer Kayleigh outside of Ravne tunnel labyrinth

Salko and volunteer Kayleigh outside of Ravne tunnel labyrinth

Salko and volunteer Kayleigh outside of Ravne tunnel labyrinth

Salko and volunteer Kayleigh outside of Ravne tunnel labyrinth

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.