| Tuesday October 21st 2014

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Secrets of the crystal skull


For decades, crystal skulls have been terrific fodder for science fiction, New Agers, and adventure novelists. (See the most recent Indiana Jones film as an example of the pop appeal of these artifacts.) The Skull of DoomTheir finders or owners insist that they’re pre-Columbian Mesoamerican artifacts while most archaeologists consider them to be hoaxes, manufactured in the 19th century or more recently. When the new Indian Jones film was released, In a Archaeology Magazine article about the work of Smithsonian anthropologist Jane MacLaren Walsh, who was immersed in a deep study of the Mitchell-Hedges skull, one of the most famous examples of the crystal skulls. Explorer Frederick A. Mitchell-Hedges claimed to have found the artifact in Central America in the 1930s. Later, his daughter insisted she actually found it in a Mayan pyramid or inside an altar in the 1920s. Now, Archaeology has presented a fascinating documentation of Walsh’s finished analysis. Spoiler alert: The skull is a fake. From Archaeology…

I have had two opportunities to examine the Mitchell-Hedges skull closely and to take silicone molds of carved and polished elements of it, which I have analyzed under high-power light and scanning-electron microscopes. I have also evaluated the documentary evidence, newspaper stories about Mitchell-Hedges, his memoirs Land of Wonder and Fear (1931) and Danger My Ally (1954), and a file of letters and documents that Anna Mitchell-Hedges sent to Frederick Dockstader, the director of the Museum of the American Indian in New York City, which I recently found.

The microscopic evidence presented here indicates that the skull is not a Maya artifact but was carved with high-speed, modern, diamond-coated lapidary tools. The historical record shows it first appeared in London in 1933 and was purchased a decade later by Mitchell-Hedges, who claimed the crystal skull was an authentic pre-Columbian artifact. The newly found archival evidence suggests Anna was later involved in the evolution of tall tales about the skull’s origins, providing a fascinating look at the creation of a popular mythology in service of a profitable business venture.

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