Archive for April 17th, 2008

The real (fake) crystal skulls

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Indiana Jones latest adventure involves a (doubtless perilous and booby-traped) search for a meso-American skull carved out of crystal.

For a hundred years, crystal skulls purported to be of Mayan or Aztec origins have popped up in museums and private collections around the world, spurring a wide variety of speculation and mythologies.

Smithsonian anthropologist Jane MacLaren Walsh examines the myth and reality in Archaeology magazine this month.

These exotic carvings are usually attributed to pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures, but not a single crystal skull in a museum collection comes from a documented excavation, and they have little stylistic or technical relationship with any genuine pre-Columbian depictions of skulls, which are an important motif in Mesoamerican iconography. […]

These small objects represent the “first generation” of crystal skulls, and they are all drilled through from top to bottom. The drill holes may in fact be pre-Columbian in origin, and the skulls may have been simple Mesoamerican quartz crystal beads, later re-carved for the European market as little mementos mori, or objects meant to remind their owners of the eventuality of death.

The best one, though, is a “third generation” (ie, 20th c.) skull belonging to the family of Indy-like adventurer Frederick Arthur Mitchell-Hedges. Over time it has an acquired a spurious Mayan origin and a mystical reputation for shooting blue light out of the eye sockets and crashing computer hard drives.

If only all fakes could be so bad-ass.

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