Archaeologists astonished at state support for bizarre project

Author: Lucian Harris
Uploaded: Thursday, 06 July, 2006

Report from The Art Newspaper on pyramid mania at Visoko in central Bosnia



Following a report published in The Art Newspaper last month, more than 20 Bosnian archaeologists, museum directors and historians have issued a statement condemning an amateur archaeologist's search for a pyramid at Visoko Hill, near the remains of Bosnia's mediaeval royal capital. The statement, issued on 22 April, strongly criticised the controversial excavations being conducted by Texas-based entrepreneur Semir ‘Sam’ Osmanagic. He believes that there is a ‘valley of the kings’ of up to four pyramids in the archaeologically-rich area.

On 14 April, surrounded by journalists, Mr Osmanagic began digging. With no internationally accredited archaeologists present, the excavations were carried out by mine workers from nearby Kakanj. Stone slabs bearing inscriptions were soon discovered, and Mr Osmanagic declared the hill to be ‘the mother of all pyramids’. On 19 April, as enough evidence of genuine archaeological importance had emerged, the ministry of culture suspended Mr Osmanagic's permit until a commission of experts from the National Museum and the Commission to Protect National Monuments could inspect the area and report.

Despite this setback for Mr Osmanagic, the ministry has declared its backing for the project, which the outraged archaeologists describe as the equivalent of allowing an amateur to dig at Stonehenge. There has been surprise among academics at the level of official support for the project, which has been endorsed by the Mayor of Sarajevo, among others. The site was visited by officials from Sarajevo and Zenica on 19 April, and the next day by the prime minister of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Federation, Ahmed Hadzipasic, a move that according to one Bosnian archaeologist, was a message to the ministry of culture not to create any obstacles. The prime minister declared that the pyramid was 12,000 years old and should become ‘a recognisable state project’. He also said that the pyramid was the most important thing to happen to Bosnia since the Dayton Accords.

The public statements issued by the experts from Sarajevo, Zenica, Bijeljina, Tuzla and Mostar demanded an ‘urgent ban on further digging in that archaeological area, currently being carried out by an unqualified person’. If this is not carried out they threaten to approach ‘international organisations, including the International Council of’ Monuments and Sites and UNESCO, to ask for the protection of national heritage from their own administration.’ It described the pyramid hunt as ‘a farce that is a laughing stock for the world’.

This report appeared in The Art Newspaper (London), no. 169, May 2006. See too the links:

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