Thursday, 22 May 2008

The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

The new Indiana Jones movie comes out today. Are you excited?! Huh?! Huh?! Are you?! Are you?! (Can you tell that I am?!). Indy’s adventures may be cheesy, but they’re a whole lot of fun!

Like previous Indy movies, the plot of this one centres around a mysterious object. In this case, the object in question is a crystal skull. As I only had a vague idea of the facts and fictions surrounding crystal skulls, I decided to read up more on the topic prior to going to see the movie.

According to legend, thirteen skulls, sculpted from quartz crystal, were originally made to act as repositories of knowledge regarding humankind’s origin, purpose on earth and future. These skulls are also said to be invested with powerful psychic energy, and can therefore be utilised for healing and divination purposes. Just who made these skulls is up for debate, however, with theories putting forth candidates ranging from the ancient civilisations of Atlantis and Lemuria, to alien civilisations, to the Aztecs or Mayans. Regardless of where these skulls originated, the legend prophesies that these skulls will be found and reunited precisely at a time when humanity needs them the most. At this point in the future, humanity will be facing an unspecified crisis for survival, yet will have finally developed a sufficient level of consciousness to enable understanding of the messages that the crystal skulls will bring.

To date, various crystal skulls have been discovered, although the full number remains elusive. All but three of the skulls are in the hands of private owners.

Probably the most famous and controversial crystal skull is one referred to as the Mitchell-Hedges skull. Unlike the other skulls that have been located, which are quite stylised in appearance, the Mitchell-Hedges skull has the distinction of having a detachable and movable lower jaw. The skull is named after the person who allegedly discovered it – Anna Mitchell-Hedges, the adopted daughter of British adventurer, FA Mitchell-Hedges. According to the story told by Anna and her father, she found the skull in a Mayan temple while they were on expedition in Belize (then the British Honduras) in 1926.

Later evidence, however, appears to discredit this story. While the expedition certainly took place, no record exists of Anna’s presence on the expedition. Similarly, while the discovery of other artefacts was logged, no such record of the skull’s discovery exists. In addition, possibly the most damning evidence comes from records kept by the British Museum relating to their purchases at auction, which include this statement, dated in 1943: “Bid at Sotheby's sale, lot 54 [crystal skull], 15 x 43 up to 340 [pounds] (Fairfax). Brought in by Burney. Sold subsequently by Mr. Burney to Mr. Mitchell-Hedges for 400 [pounds].” Sydney Burney, a London art dealer, was also reported as the owner of the skull in a 1936 article in the British anthropological journal Man. Anna and her father disputed the allegations that they had never found the skull on expedition but instead purchased it at auction nearly twenty years later. Mr Mitchell-Hedges claimed that he had left the skull with Mr Burney as collateral for a loan, and that, upon finding out at the last minute that Mr Burney was trying to sell it at auction and unable to persuade the auction house to cancel the sale, the only recourse left to him was to purchase the skull back for himself.

During the 1970s, Anna Mitchell-Hedges gave permission for the skull to be tested at the Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, while the skull was in the temporary custody of Frank Dorland, a freelance art restorer. These tests revealed that the skull was made from a single quartz crystal, and that contrary to accepted methods, it had been carved against the crystal’s natural axis. By rights, a crystal carved in this way should have shattered during subsequent detailing and finishing. Although Dorland found evidence of mechanical grinding on the skull’s teeth, and a later report by Norman Hammond, an archaeologist specialising in Mayan artefacts, stated that the holes made to support the skull’s jaw were drilled using a metal bit, no other carving from metal instruments was found. Dorland’s concluding hypothesis was that the skull had initially been roughly shaped using diamonds and then shaped and polished by hand, an effort that would have required 300 years worth of work to get the skull into its present condition. Anna Mitchell-Hedges (and since her death, her widower) consistently refused for the skull to undergo any subsequent testing after this. This lack of access to the skull has raised questions regarding its authenticity as well as fuelled rumours of its mystical properties.

Two of the skulls owned by museums (in Britain and France) have, however, been tested extensively. These tests demonstrated that the etched lines of the skulls’ teeth were made by a rotary jewellers’ tool, while the surface of the skulls show straight evenly spaced marking such as those made by a modern polishing wheel. Hand-polished artefacts, in comparison, display haphazard tiny scratches on their surfaces. As a result of these tests, it has been concluded that the skulls were not Aztec in origin as had previously been claimed by those who had allegedly discovered them in the 1800s. Instead, it is felt that the skulls were manufactured in Germany in the 19th century, at a time when trade in fake Aztec and Mayan artefacts was at its height.

At the end of the day, it seems impossible to separate out fact from fiction with respect to these skulls. The scientific tests indicate that the skulls were made with sophisticated machinery – this may rule out the Aztecs, but does it necessarily preclude other ancient or alien civilisations with access to tools beyond what we currently know? Or are the skulls currently in possession definitely fakes? And if so, does this mean that the crystal skulls of legend don’t exist? Or that they do and just haven’t been discovered yet?

Ultimately, we have a Ripley situation… Believe it? Or not? Let me know what you think!


Mark - Creative Journey Cafe said...

Ha! I'm about to go see the new Indy in about an hour! Whoo-hoo! (Or in your case, Woo-woo!)

These movies are the reason I go the the movies in the first place. I love the mysterious aspects of the crystal skulls. Like the title of the new X-Files movie says, I want to believe!

Mags | Woo-Woo Wisdom said...

Oo, very cool - do enjoy!!

I also love the mysterious aspects of the skulls. At the very least, it has people discussing and debating the possibilities that there may be more to life than the physical!

Anonymous said...

fascinating story!

Mags | Woo-Woo Wisdom said...

Welcome, Bene! Yes, the many stories surrounding the skulls make for interesting reading. Where the truth lies is anyone's guess, but the skulls are fascinating nevertheless!

Lady Rose said...

LOVED the movie! :) big Harrison Ford fan too.

I hope to see it at least one more time on the big screen.

Mags | Woo-Woo Wisdom said...

Hi, Lady Rose - Me too! Indy movies are so much fun!