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Crystal skulls

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For decades the famous crystal skull in the Museum of Mankind in London was thought to be Aztec - and to possess mysterious powers like moving around within its glass cabinet at night...
But all that has changed, and most experts now think it’s a 19th. century fake, made in Europe!
In tests at the British Museum (filmed by the BBC) in 1996, traces of (jewellers’) wheel markings on the teeth suggested it had been made with modern tools, out of Brazilian quarz.
Many scholars believe the skull - bought by the Museum in 1897 for some $900 in New York - was a fake sold by a dealer who nearly managed to sell one to the National Museum of Mexico in the 1880s for $3,000!
emoticon It’s crystal clear - it’s a fake!

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‘The Skull of Doom’
Read Jane Walsh’s latest research on the famous Mitchell-Hedges Skull - now shown to be a hoax...
Archaeology Magazine feature
Rock crystal skull, British Museum

Crystal skulls

For decades the famous crystal skull in the Museum of Mankind in London was believed by many to be, and indeed labelled, ‘probably Aztec’ - and also to possess healing and other mysterious powers, including that of moving around within its glass cabinet on the first floor of the Museum... (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Rock crystal skull, British Museum
Rock crystal skull, British Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

But all that has changed, and most experts now think it’s a 19th. century fake, made in Europe! Its current home is the Americas section of the main British Museum...

Crystal skull alongside a modern Mexican papier maché sull
Crystal skull alongside a modern Mexican papier maché sull (Click on image to enlarge)

According to many mystics an ancient North American legend tells of 13 crystal skulls - some still to be discovered - which share information about the origins and destiny of humankind. One day, it’s said, at a time of great need, all the crystal skulls would be rediscovered and brought together to reveal their message for humanity. The fact that the Aztecs believed in 13 planes of ‘heaven’, and that they produced precious crystal ornaments seemed to add weight to the idea that the crystal skulls could be genuinely ‘ancient’.

The most celebrated of those so far ‘discovered’ is the Mitchell-Hedges Skull, unearthed in Belize in 1927: you can see a small image of it on the BBC Worldwide web page below, and on the cover of the book ‘The Mystery...’. Famously this skull was analyzed by a team in the crystal laboratories of the computer company Hewlett-Packard in California in 1970: it was shown to have come from a single large block of natural and very pure rock crystal; amazingly, the research team concluded that it had to have been carved and rubbed entirely by hand in a process spanning ‘300 man-years of effort’.

Plate 26, Codex Borgia (from the ADEVA facsimile): the five directions with (deceased) deities and 20 day signs in the underworld. The human skull represents the central direction
Plate 26, Codex Borgia (from the ADEVA facsimile): the five directions with (deceased) deities and 20 day signs in the underworld. The human skull represents the central direction (Click on image to enlarge)

In tests performed at the British Museum (and filmed by the BBC) in 1996, the background to the Museum’s own crystal skull proved less exotic, however: traces of (jewellers’) wheel markings on the teeth suggested it was manufactured with modern tools, out of Brazilian quarz. This appears to confirm the suspicions of many scholars that the skull - bought by the Museum in 1897 for some $900 from Tiffany & Co. in New York - was, like a similar one in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, a fake that had come through the hands of one Eugene Boban, a dealer in (often fake) antiquities who nearly succeeded in selling one to the National Museum of Mexico in the 1880s for $3,000.

Margaret Sax presents the results of scientific tests on the skull in the British Museum
Margaret Sax presents the results of scientific tests on the skull in the British Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

The background to much of this can be read in the well researched book ‘The Mystery of the Crystal Skulls’ by Chris Morton and Ceri Louise Thomas - who produced the BBC documentary. Now a decade later, however, much of the interest in this intriguing story appears to have died away.

The BM still needs to identify categorically the source of the rock crystal, thought to be from Brazil
The BM still needs to identify categorically the source of the rock crystal, thought to be from Brazil (Click on image to enlarge)

2007 Update: On August 16th. 2007, Margaret Sax, a Special Assistant in the BM Conservation Department, gave a Gallery Talk on the crystal skull, presenting fresh archival and scientific research on the story. The main conclusions?
• The standard of carving on the skull is not particularly high at all
• Recent tests using scanning electron microscopy reveal that the teeth and mouth were definitely cut with a (metal) wheel charged with an abrasive (and it’s very likely the face was too)
• Though we know that hand drills were used in pre-Columbian times, there’s no evidence at all that wheels were employed
• It’s highly probably that the skull was carved with a 19th century German lathe
• Rock crystal from Brazil - which became popular in Germany for carving crystal balls and other ephemera - only became available in the quantities/sizes needed to carve this skull around 1875
• Boban obtained the skull, probably in Europe, between 1878 and 1881
• He was denounced in Mexico when he tried to sell the skull to the National Museum (see above) and had to flee to the USA...

Note: Serious readers should search for the Journal of Archaeological Science and track down the article by Margaret Sax, Jane Walsh and others (October 2008).

More on the 13 Aztec ‘heavens’

World-mysteries.com

Read more about the British Museum crystal skull

Learn more about research techniques at the BM

Read research from the other side of the Atlantic

British Museum Research News on two crystal skulls

‘Sugar skulls and sacrifice’ - Damien Hirst and Mexico’s death culture

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