New Age practitioners and pseudo-archaeologists have, throughout the years, always maintained that some objects are of archaeological significance, even though their existence contradicts scientific investigation and records. Ancient cultures are presented as mysterious, and their arts and crafts can become shrouded in mystery, especially if it is suggested that they somehow hold lost secrets, or that aliens were known to visit them. Most of these oddly-acquired artifacts have been shown to be fakes or misrepresentations of their culture. A popular myth today revolves around the pre-Columbian Aztecs and Mayans, and the crystal skulls that some people are attributing to them. Crystal skulls were a part of the plot of the 2008 Indiana Jones film as well, and it’s easy to see how they have widespread appeal.
The crystal skulls are a series of carved crania, made out of a clear or milky quartz, and have been claimed as artifacts from pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. The Smithsonian has a large head on display and so do three other museums around the world. While there are numerous examples of skeletal imagery in the Aztec, Mixtec, and Olmec art record, these glassy artifacts have been proven to be fake.
None of the skulls have ever been documented as coming from an excavation; Anna Le Guillon Mitchell-Hedges claimed she found her (possibly most famous) piece buried under a collapsed temple in Belize in 1924. However, no other writings from that expedition made mention of the find and examination of the structure determined that some of the holes in the cranium had to have been made using metal drills, and the grooves of the teeth had to have been carved using rotor tools (which were only developed in the 19th century). Modern studies concluded that the crystal had been carved in the 1800s in Germany.
Despite this, Mitchell-Hedges claimed for the rest of her life that her prized find had been verified as an ancient Mayan artifact of death by living indigenous tribespeople. She swore by its ability to cure cancer, but also said she had once used its magical properties to kill someone and had foreseen the assassination of John F. Kennedy in a prophetic vision caused by the skull. These beliefs were quickly embraced by the New Age crowd, who have speculated that the crystal heads have a major role in the 2012 Mayan Calender phenomenon or even that they were used by shamans to access ancient or alien knowledge.
Nonetheless, every scientific study of the skulls has found that they were fashioned using modern stone-cutting tools, and thus could not possibly be pre-Columbian in origin. A scanning electron microscope was used in 2009, to date the sample in the Musee du quasi Branly in Paris, and it was determined that it was carved in the 18th century. Fiction, video games and films often make use of the magical realism that stories surrounding fake artifacts can provide and so the mythology surrounding the artifacts lives on.
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