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The Crystal Skull: A Mystery and Controversy

To me the crystal skull story is very intriguing as it’s covered in a shroud of mystery and controversy. Let’s take a look at some of the famous crystal skulls known.

The Skulls :

Mitchell-Hedges Skull :

Anna Mitchell-Hedge-Crystal Skull

Anna Mitchell-Hedges
Origin and Copyright unknown

One of the most famous crystal skull known today is the so called ancient pre-columbian Mesoamerican civilization crystal skull found in 1924 by Anna Mitchell-Hedges, the adopted daughter of British adventurer and popular author F.A. Mitchell-Hedges. She claims that she found this crystal skull buried under a collapsed altar of a temple in Lubaantun, in British Honduras, now Belize.

One of the claims at the Mitchell Hedges website is that its impossible to replicate even with modern machinery. So Nat Geo contracted Barry Liu owner of Skullis to have a go at making an exact replica and they managed to make an exact replica in 8 days.

Next Dr John Morris at Institute of Archaeology, Belize had a look at the skull and came to the conclusion that it had no similarities with myan art and that it didn’t look like any other skull found in that part of the world in pre-Columbian times. He explains that in an attempt to find out the exact location where Anna mitchell-hedges claimed to have found the skull in 1927 they re-mapped the site but they couldn’t find any of the tunnels or passages she described.

Norman Hammond (academic and Mesoamericanist scholar) says that Anna Mitchell-Hedges wasn’t even on the expedition in 1927 as she is not mentioned in any of the official logs or journals. There was also no record in anyone’s journals of the skull having being found at the time they say it was..

So where did the “Skull of Doom” come from?

It seems that Mitchell-Hedges bought it at an auction from Sotheby’s, Burney , UK in 1944, many years after the expedition to the temple in Lubaantun. A copy of the Sotheby’s catalog has been discovered.

British Museum Skull :

British Museum Crystal Skull.
See page for author [CC BY 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons

The crystal skull in the British Museum first appeared in 1881 in a shop of Paris antiquarian, Eugène Boban. The British Museum later purchased this skull from Tiffany and Co., New York in 1897. Tiffany and Co. had previously purchased it from George H. Sisson a nineteenth-century American entrepreneur in New York  at an auction. So it seems that Mr. Sisson had purchased this skull sometime after Eugène Boban moved to New York. The skull was exhibited for many years at the Museum of Mankind in Piccadilly (which housed the British Museum’s Ethnographic collection), it is currently on permanent display at the British Museum in the Wellcome Trust Gallery.

The British Museum has examined the skull several times between 1950 and 1990. In 1996, a collaborative project focusing on the British Museum’s skull and a skull in the collection of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC was started. Contrary to popular belief, there are no satisfactory scientific techniques which can be used to accurately establish when a stone object was carved. Research has therefore focused on how the skulls were carved, where the quartz originated from and what is known about the early history of the skulls. Observations made with a binocular microscope and in a scanning electron microscope show that the techniques used to carve the skulls post date the ancient Aztec period. The tool marks on the skulls are very different to those on ancient Mexican rock crystal objects, which were carved by hand. The British Museum skull was extensively worked with lathe-mounted rotary wheels (jeweller’s wheels), which were unknown in the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans. The research also shows that the large block of rock crystal suitable for the British Museum skull did not come from a source within the ancient trade network of Mexico. It is likely to have originated from a source in Brazil or Madagascar. The results of this research have been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science and are available online: Sax, M., Walsh, J.M., Freestone, I.C., Rankin, A.H. and Meeks, N.D., Journal of Archaeological Science (2008).

Paris Skull :

Crystal skull at the Musée du quai Branly, Paris
By Klaus-Dieter Keller (Self-photographed)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Another crystal skull sold by Eugène Boban to Alphonse Pinart is known to be the largest of these three skulls. It’s about 10 cm (4 in) high, has a hole drilled vertically through its center there are assumptions that it may have been on a staff, and later perhaps on a cross.  It’s part of a collection held at the Musée du Quai Branly, and was subjected to scientific tests carried out in 2007–08 by France’s national Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France (Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums in France, or C2RMF). In 2009 the C2RMF researchers published results of further investigations to establish when the Paris skull had been carved. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) analysis indicated the use of lapidary machine tools in its carving. The results of a new dating technique known as quartz hydration dating (QHD) demonstrated that the Paris skull had been carved later than a reference quartz specimen artifact, known to have been cut in 1740. The researchers conclude that the SEM and QHD results combined with the skull’s known provenance indicate it was carved in the 18th or 19th century. The Paris Crystal Skull It is currently residing in the Trocadero Museum in Paris

Smithsonian Skull :

Smithsonian Skull
Origin and Copyright unknown

The “Smithsonian Skull”, Catalogue No. A562841-0 in the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, was claimed to be an Aztec object and was purportedly from the collection of Porfirio Diaz. It is the largest of the skulls, weighing 31 pounds (14 kg) and is 15 inches (38 cm) high. It was carved using carborundum, a modern abrasive. It has been displayed as a modern fake at the National Museum of Natural History.

In 1992, according to anthropologist Jane MacLaren Walsh of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), the museum received an  unsolicited donation of a larger-than-life, ten-inch-high skull carved from milky-hued quartz. Some time later, Walsh, an expert in Mexican archaeology, was asked to research the skull, one of several known to exist. Until that point, skulls of this kind typically had been attributed to ancient Mesoamerican cultures.

Walsh knew that if the skull proved to be a genuine pre-Columbian relic, it would constitute an important addition to the Smithsonian collection. But she harbored doubts from the start. “After Mexican independence,” she says, “a lot of outsiders started coming into the country and collecting historic pieces for museums.” The collectors, she adds, “created a demand, and local artisans then created a supply. Some of the things sold to these foreigners may not have been made to intentionally deceive, but certain dealers claimed that they were ancient.” Walsh thinks that the Smithsonian skull was carved in Mexico in the 1950s.

The Controversy :

The Boban Connection :

Boban, a gentleman of dubious reputation, lived in the 19th century and seems to be associated with the appearance of both skulls as well as with a third skull now at the Musee de l’Homme in Paris. Boban operated a business in Mexico for some years that traded in artifacts. Apparently it was Boban that sold the British skull to Tiffany’s. Instead of obtaining the skulls in Mexico, however, it is thought he got them from Germany where they were carved during the 19th century. During that period large amounts of Brazilian quartz crystal were imported and shaped there.

There is certainly evidence that supports the idea that both the skulls came from the same source. One scientist, Dr. G. M. Morant, got to examine what is thought to be the Mitchell-Hedges skull (then in Burney’s hands) and the British skull together in 1936. He noted the skulls were very similar in many anatomical details. It was his theory that the one in the British Museum might be a slightly rougher copy of the Mitchell-Hedges skull.

Despite their suspicions neither Morant, nor later Freestone, has been able to definitely establish a time or place where either of these skulls were created. So, many people continue to attribute them with ancient origins and remarkable powers. Even if they lack paranormal capabilities, however, they remain fascinating oddities set in crystal stone.

The Supernatural :

Stories about the skulls focus heavily on their perceived supernatural powers. Joshua Shapiro, coauthor of Mysteries of the Crystal Skulls Revealed, cites claims of healing and expanded psychic abilities from people who have been in the presence of such skulls.

“We believe the Crystal Skulls are a form of computer which are able to record energy and vibration that occur around them,” he writes. ” The skull will pictorially replay all events or images of the people who have come into contact with them (i.e. they contain the history of our world).”

Most archaeologists and scientists are skeptical, to say the least. Skulls were prominent in ancient Mesoamerican artwork, particularly among the Aztec, so the connection between these artifacts and these civilizations is apt.

“It was a symbol of regeneration,” says Michael Smith, a professor of anthropology at Arizona State University. “There were several Aztec gods that were represented by skulls, so they were probably invoking these gods. I don’t think they were supposed to have specific powers or anything like that.”

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