Pseudoscience in Bosnia

Science  05 Oct 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5847, pp. 42c-43c
DOI: 10.1126/science.318.5847.42c

In the Newsmakers item “Digging for pride” (27 July, p. 435), Bosnian Prime Minister Nedzad Brankovic is quoted as asking, “Why don't we recognize something that is visible to the naked eye?” An answer to his question is that Semir Osmanagic and his colleagues have so far failed to publish, in a peer-reviewed journal, a credible case that the ruins of a monument-constructing “supercivilization” are anything other than a haphazard collection of jointed bedrock, Leisegang banding, sole marks, concretions, and other geologic features mixed in with some unrelated medieval, Roman, and other artifacts and ruins (1).

For example, Osmanagic and his colleagues claim that giant, meter-scale, “stone balls” found near Zavidovici, Bosnia and Herzegovina, are man-made artifacts related to a Bosnian “supercivilization.” Examination of petrographic thin sections of recently obtained samples of the Zavidovici “stone balls” and the bedrock that originally enclosed them found that they consist of litharenite (2). Typical thin sections of the “stone balls” exhibit pervasive carbonate cement, including poikilotopic calcite spar. The calcite cement has often replaced framework grains. The bedrock, either from which these objects came or in which they are still partially encased, consists of litharenite almost identical in composition to these spherical to subspherical boulders. Local bedrock differs from these objects in that it typically lacks the strongly developed carbonate cement. Their carbonate cements, their subspherical shape, and their having been embedded in local bedrock demonstrate that they are naturally formed, calcite-cemented cannonball concretions, which have been described from Egypt, Kansas, New Zealand, and the southwestern United States (36).

However, no matter how obviously natural the various features that comprise pseudoarchaeological sites are to conventional geologists and archaeologists, dismissing them as “pseudoscience” is not enough. Instead, we need to explain to the public—using empirical data and logical arguments published in either popular articles, field guidebooks, Web pages, or other media—how natural features are either being misidentified or misrepresented as cultural artifacts. The wide interest generated by Bosnian “pyramids,” the “Phoenician Furnace and Fortress” of Oklahoma, and other pseudoarchaeological sites offers an opportunity to educate a curious public about the origin and significance of the geologic features such as systematic jointing, Leisegang banding, ripple marks, sole marks, and concretions that comprise them.


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