Final thoughts on the Bosnian pyramid


As it turned out this was a dread­ful title as it just ran and ran and ran…

Possibly not my last ever thoughts, but the only reason I wrote my first post on the sub­ject was that I found the mass accept­ance of what is eas­ily checked non­sense mildly amus­ing. If some­thing endear­ingly bark­ing comes out of Visoko then I may laugh again but my in depth ana­lysis (The sim­il­ar­ity between the Pyramids of the Sun is that the pointy bit is at the top, see below also) is about as excited I can get about it. There is a dark irony to that a coun­try whose her­it­age sites were tar­geted in an eth­nic cleans­ing cam­paign has decided to fin­ish off the job with one of their major sites, but it’s not that amus­ing. On the whole it’s rather dull and I’m sorry to dis­ap­point Billy Rae but I’m not filled with enthu­si­asm to write a com­pre­hens­ive debunk­ing of the site, tak­ing each fact line by line because it’s obvi­ous that Osmanagić isn’t inter­ested in facts. Here are a col­lec­tion of thoughts which might explain why I’m not moved to keep more of an eye on the topic.

Osmanagić is mak­ing claims which he has no evid­ence for

I was going to talk about the align­ments of Mayan pyr­am­ids. This was because one of the reas­ons we ‘know’ the Bosnian pyr­amid is a pyr­amid is because it’s aligned in the car­dinal dir­ec­tions. The reason it’s called the Pyramid of the Sun is that it looks like the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan. So I fired up Google Earth to take a look at Teotihuacan.

The Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, in Google Earth

Well that’s not car­din­ally aligned.
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The Price of a Pyramid


A broken ste­cak (medi­eval grave­stone) from Visocica hill. Photo from the Hall of Ma’at.

Osmanagić named his pyr­amid in Bosnia after the pyr­amid of the same name in Mexico, so I thought to write about the sim­il­ar­it­ies of the Mexican Pyramid of the Sun and the Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun today. Here goes.

They both have the nar­row end at the top.

Of more interest is some­thing I’ve found in the Hall of Ma’at. They’ve been dis­cuss­ing the saga of the Bosnian Pyramid and its effect on the local archae­olo­gical sites. One pos­sible site is a medi­eval grave­yard. Some grave­yards in the Balkans are quite spe­cial and it appears that the one on Visocica hill was one of them. They have grave­stones known as stecci (sin­gu­lar: ste­cak). According to the Bosnian Institute stecci are one of the items that are dis­tinct­ively Bosnian rather than Balkan. There are a few found out­side Bosnia, but the vast major­ity are spe­cific­ally attached to Bosnian iden­tity. As a col­lec­tion they form a unique body of art­facts which can tell us what was spe­cial about these people in the past. What was it that made the dif­fer­ent from their neighbours?

Sadly there are a few less that we can use­fully study now, because Osmanagić is excav­at­ing the site with earth-moving equip­ment. Anything which doesn’t fit the pyr­amid ideal risks going crunch as it’s scraped off the bed­rock. Enver Imamovic of the University of Sarajevo, a former dir­ector of the National Museum of Sarajevo, con­cerned that the excav­a­tions will dam­age his­toric sites such as the medi­eval royal cap­ital of Visoki, said that the excav­a­tions would “irre­vers­ibly des­troy a national treas­ure”.

Osmanagić isn’t the first per­son to bull­doze their way to their des­tin­a­tion. Schliemann employed sim­ilar tech­niques in ham­mer­ing his way into Troy. Ironically Schliemann’s tun­nel vis­ion meant he des­troyed much of Priam’s Troy, the city he was look­ing for, and dug through to an earlier level. Similarly Osmanagić appears to be des­troy­ing evid­ence that would bol­ster his story too.

For instance if there really was a pyr­amid under the hill, wouldn’t it be inter­est­ing to say how the pyr­amid came to be lost as time went on? How did its feature’s come to obscured by reset­tle­ment? What’s the big story about the site? If Osmanagić’s excav­a­tion goes well he will at least be able to point to the stripped hill where the Bosnian cap­ital once stood and say “Look it’s a pyr­amid!” but it would be nice to be able to say more.

As the stecci show though, if Osmanagić is wrong then he’ll have demol­ished a site at the heart of Bosnia at a time when it was becom­ing dis­tinct­ively Bosnian. He’ll achieve what the artil­lery failed to do in erad­ic­at­ing the land­scape of its Bosnian past.

Other inter­est­ing pages (via Science and Politics) are at:
The Cabinet of Wonders, which shows that Osmanagić is flatly con­tra­dict­ing him­self again.

The Accidental Weblog’s entry Trampling History which I can agree with includ­ing the line Wow, I kinda wish it would turn out, des­pite all that is sane, to be true. Because it’s always nice to dis­cover that there’s so much new stuff to be uncovered about the past.

The best photo on the topic is found at Orbis Quintus.

Overlooked Archaeologists


From Stoachastic, via Afarensis:

Which sci­ent­ist (in your field or bey­ond) has been most ser­i­ously shaf­ted? This could be taken two ways:
* Who deserves to be more recog­nized, revered and renowned today than he or she is?
* Who got passed over, ridiculed, etc. the most while he or she was alive?

This is a dif­fi­cult ques­tion. My vote in archae­ology would go to Ben Sandford Cullen who wrote the book Contagious Ideas. It drew praise from widely dif­fer­ing view­points. Editors of the book included prom­in­ent archae­olo­gists like Renfrew and Shanks. Unfortunately it needed edit­ors because it was a posthum­ous book by someone who died at the age of thirty-two. I plan to blog about it at some length some time in the future, but briefly it’s an explor­a­tion of Cultural Virus Theory.

Cultural Viruses are very sim­ilar to memes except they’re more obvi­ously use­ful to an archae­olo­gist. The concept of Memes was cre­ated to demon­strate the power of rep­lic­a­tion in genes for the Selfish Gene. Cultural Virus concept, which is very sim­ilar, was inven­ted to model the spread of ideas. Archaelogists often ask the ques­tion “How do ideas spread?” they rarely ask the ques­tion “What would a the­ory of cul­ture be like if we mod­elled it on a selfish gene?” which is the staple of pop memetic books.

I’d say he’s been over­looked as there’s very little ref­er­ence to his work and com­par­at­ively few people work­ing from the same per­spect­ive. Stephen Shennan has writ­ten Genes, Memes and Human History, but there’s some­thing that Cullen had no that’s wrong, that Cullen omits in his work that makes it chal­len­ging. Reading the book for the first time I thought “That’s like a meme… that’s like a meme… that’s like a meme.” But that’s the point, Cultural Viruses are like memes, but they don’t cling to the same con­cep­tual scaf­fold. Cullen was aware of memes, but if a very select­ive fire burned all books on pop­u­lar memet­ics his work would still stand with little loss of context.

Impressive as his work is, since he’s dead I’m not sure what can be done to improve his vis­ib­il­ity. He didn’t get chance to develop his ideas more fully and it’s simply not going to be pos­sible for someone to write the papers that he didn’t. I can’t be Ben Cullen 2.0 and it would be fool­ish to try.

Classically I’ll stick with Anaximander. I know I could try and dis­cuss a clas­si­cist who hasn’t has the respect they deserve, but Anaximander still remains the clas­sical name who should be men­tioned along­side Einstein and Newton in my opinion.

Out of my field Alfred Wegener’s work on Plate Tectonics comes to mind.

Mursi Astronomy II


Mursi Man
Mursi Man. Photo by CharlesFred.

Yesterday I intro­duced the Mursi cal­en­dar, which might not be very good but was good enough for the needs of the Mursi. While it is ostens­ibly a lunar cal­en­dar, in real­ity agri­cul­tural activ­ity is decided by close exam­in­a­tion of the local envir­on­ment rather than astro­nomy. This cre­ates a flex­ible cal­en­dar which adapts to the vari­ab­il­ity of the Ethiopian cli­mate. Today I’ll talk about a second prob­lem. While most of the Mursi sched­ule is flex­ible, the flood­ing of the River Omo, at the edge of Mursi ter­rit­ory, is an annual and more or less fixed event.

According to the loc­als the Omo floods four times. Timing the plant­ing of the sorghum crop is there­fore cru­cial. Plant to early and the flood­wa­ters will wash the seeds away. Plant too late an you may have missed your chance to grow sorghum on the river bank this year. This is crit­ical as Ethiopia is not cur­rently known for its boun­ti­ful landscape.

The flood­ing of the Omo is related to the thaw­ing of snow in the nearby moun­tains. This causes the prob­lem of tim­ing, because this flood­ing is related to the solar cycle and so can­not be meas­ured in the lunar cycle the Mursi use to meas­ure the year. While a chaotic cal­en­dar may work for most of the year it would seem in this period, around August to October, accur­ate tim­ing is neces­sary. How is this achieved when the cal­en­dar is based on the age of a bergu (goat – see yesterday’s post) that no-one agrees about?
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Imitation — The sincerest form of mappery


Frequency of a surname

Laputan Logic links to the Surname Profiler at UCL. He also has inter­est­ing com­ments on tra­cing sur­names. If the pro­posed con­nec­tion between sur­names and Y-chromosomes holds then you can bask in the genetic link to your fore­fath­ers. If you lack a Y-chromosome then you’ll just have to com­fort your­self with the know­ledge you can think with your brain instead.

If you’re one of these people who changed their sur­name a while ago then a map like this might not tell you so much about your ancest­ors. On a totally uncon­nec­ted note I’ve found that if you’re look­ing for Mackensie, you need to spell it with a ‘z’.

Assumption #1: You’ve got to have astronomy because you’ve got to have an accurate calendar (Mursi Astronomy)


The Mursi. Photo by CharlesFred.

I’ve been mean­ing to write this up for a while. I need it online as a ref­er­ence note because it tackles a com­mon prob­lem I have when talk­ing to some people about ancient astro­nomy. Sometimes the reason I dis­agree with an astro­nom­ical inter­pret­a­tion of a site, like Fiskerton, is that there’s an unchal­lenged assump­tion that ancient people were on a quest for accur­acy and pre­dic­tion like mod­ern sci­ent­ists. It seems a reas­on­able assump­tion for some soci­et­ies. Mayan cal­en­dars were more accur­ate than those of Europe in the same period. Sometimes though you find some­thing which blows all your pre­con­cep­tions out of the water. Astronomy, as prac­ticed by the Mursi, is one example.

The Mursi live in south­west­ern Ethiopia by the banks of the River Omo. They live on sorghum, which is planted to coin­cide with either the flood­ing of the Omo or the rains, and from their live­stock. Agriculture in Ethiopia can pre­cari­ous at the best of times, so these people really need to know what they’re doing. Miss the rains or the floods and your sorghum crop is lost. Similarly you want to make sure you’re up in the moun­tains when the pas­ture is there for the cows. This would sug­gest they have a use­ful cal­en­dar and they do. But it’s very odd.
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