The Mesoamerican Crystal Skulls
Few things fascinate the imagination like the human skull. Perhaps this is why there is worldwide interest in the mysterious “Ancient” Mesoamerican Quartz Crystal Skulls and their purported “magical powers.” Thirteen of these crystal skulls have been found in parts of Mexico, Central America and South America, and there is much controversy surrounding their origin and specific age. This has inspired equal parts mysticism and skepticism surrounding their authenticity.
The crystal skulls were reportedly found in locations near ancient Aztec and Mayan ruins. Locals in these areas have described the magical healing powers of the skulls, and believe that they transmit energy, have the ability to convey information, and hold ancient wisdom. There is also a legend that the ancient Maya possessed 13 crystal skulls which, when united, hold the power to save the Earth. Archaeologists have yet to determine what they might have been specifically used for, and some people have estimated that the skulls could be between 5,000 and 36,000 years old.
The mystery surrounding how such sophisticated skulls could have been made by ancient rudimentary tools has led many to dispute the idea that the skulls are actual archaeological artifacts. Skeptics have claimed that they are well-made fakes, as they do not resemble any of the technologies of the peoples to which they supposedly belong. This mystery of the skull’s origins has led to equal amounts of speculation that the skulls could be older than the civilizations in which they were found, leading as far back as the days of Atlantis.
The skulls seem to defy logic regarding the manner in which they were carved. Most lapidarists take into account the axis of the stone that they are carving; otherwise, their sculpture is more likely to shatter during the shaping process. These skulls, however, were carved completely against the natural axis of the stone, and under laboratory analysis no conclusive evidence has been found to support the theory that they were created with current stone-carving technologies. The British Museum Crystal Skull and the Paris Crystal Skull were both purchased in 1890 and have been on exhibit since 1898. These dates of exhibition predate any sophisticated laser carving machines that might have been able to create such elaborate works of art.
The most important crystal skull is probably the one known as the British Museum Skull. This piece is made of clear quartz; the British Museum purchased it from Tiffany and Co. in 1897, who had acquired it from a man claiming to have purchased it from a Spanish officer in Mexico. Modern analysis of the skull has shown that it is extremely unlikely that it actually originated in Mesoamerica.
Various sources have claimed that the skull is Aztec in origin. The Mesoamericans did have some skull art, including Mayan and Aztec tzompantli or “skull racks” which displayed human skulls (generally of sacrificial victims). They also had carved jade masks and turquoise mosaic masks, but these masks are stylistically very different from the crystal skulls. Analysis by the British Museum of the crystal itself shows that it could have been made with 19th century lapidary tools. Additionally, analysis of the quartz itself shows that it most likely came from deposits in Brazil.
The other most well-known skull is the Mitchell-Hedges skull, also known as the “Skull of Doom,” supposedly discovered by 17-year-old Anna Mitchell-Hedges during a dig in Belize with her father, F.A. Mitchell-Hedges. The jaw of this particular skull is mobile, which makes it unique. Its history is even more colorful than the skull from the British Museum. F.A. Mitchell-Hedges claimed, in the first edition of his autobiography, that it could be at least 3,600 years old, and that Mayan high priests were able to use it to curse people with death. It is more likely, however, that Mitchell-Hedges actually purchased it at auction from Sotheby’s in 1943, as it appears identical to a photograph in the Sotheby’s catalog from the time.
These two skulls share similar histories, shrouded in mystery, with other famous skulls such as the Paris Crystal Skull, the Mayan Crystal Skull, the Amethyst Crystal Skull, “Max” the Texan Crystal Skull, “ET” the Smokey Quartz Skull, the Rose Quartz Crystal Skull, the Brazilian Crystal Skull, “Compassion” the Atlantean Crystal Skull, and “Amar” the Tibetan Crystal Skull. Whatever the true story of the skulls may be, it surely stretches over continents and hundreds of years. Whether or not they are authentic may not ever be conclusively decided. It is, however, this intriguing blend of mysticism and fact has permeated and inspired current pop culture media such as the movie Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, sci fi TV shows such as Stargate SG-1, and the video games Assassin’s Creed and Persona II.