During the last half of the nineteenth century, quartz skulls began to show up in private and museum collections. These were presented as Mayan, Aztec or Mixtec crystal skulls. However, the origin and history of these skulls is as murky and cloudy as the quartz the makers used.
Quartz is one of the most common of earth’s minerals. It is silica in the group of hexagonal crystals. It is without color under pure conditions, it takes on other colors when incorporated with other minerals, elements or reflected light.
A crystal quartz skull is truly spectacular. An artisan carved quartz into a clear glass like image that looks like a skull. When in light proximity, the skulls take on and absorb, transmit and reflect color to give it an eerie glow
First Generation Quartz Crystal Skulls
The earliest skulls found were small such as the one exhibited in the British Museum. These may have been pre-Columbian beads, and refinished into the skull shape later. After reworking the beads into the shape of skulls, they were sold to the European market.
Quartz crystal skulls appeared in 1863 just before the French came to Mexico. One in the British Museum is about an inch high. Others appeared in the 1867 Universal Paris Exposition in Eugene Boban’s displays.
The Second and Third Generation Crystal Quartz Skulls
The second-generation skulls are approximately life size and are the ones that captured the popular imagination. Boban discovered the first of this series in 1881. He neglected to note the conditions about it discovery. These artifacts also have vertical holes drilled through the skull like the previous ones.
The third versions of these quartz crystal skulls appeared in 1934. These do not have the vertical holes in the quartz. They are approximately life size.
Eugene Boban was an antiquarian, and in charge of archaeology under the French. He was fluent in Spanish and Nahuatl, the Aztec language. He dealt in Pre-Columbian artifacts and antiquities. Boban was fascinated with ancient Mexican culture and had lived there for several years before the French arrived.
Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Quartz Skull
This is perhaps the most famous skull. Anna Mitchell-Hedges takes credit for discovering this Mayan crystal skull. She claimed to have found it under a Mayan temple alter in a ruined city in Lubaantun, Belize. Anna was the adopted daughter of F. A. Mitchell-Hedges. Her father was conducting an excavation at the site at the time Anna says she found the skull. The Skull of Doom and The Skull of Love are alternate names for the Mitchell-Hedges skull.
Mitchell-Hedges published his memoir, Danger My Ally, in 1954. He mentions the skull at the end of that book. He said people that laughed at it died, and gives other fantastic and supernatural stories in connection to the artifact. In his book, he doesn’t credit his daughter with finding it, or any details as to how it was obtained.
Anna has said it she discovered it in 1924 and 1927, but the Mitchell-Hedges dig ended in 1926. She doesn’t appear in any photographs taken of the expedition or have any photos of her with the skull at the site.
Crystal Quartz Skulls in Museums
When compared to the Mitchell-Hedges skull, the British Museum version has less detail. The British museum bought it from Tiffany and Company in 1898. Tiffany purchased it from Boban.
The Paris Musee de l'Homme has one donated by A. Pinart who had purchased it from Eugene Boban in 1878. It is smaller than the Mitchell-Hedges and British versions. The Paris version is smoky quartz instead of clear material.
The crystal quartz skull in the British Museum.
Central American Indian Skulls
Middle American Indians use skulls as common motif. These are commonly carved as painted sculpture or painted images on walls. Stand-alone skulls are less common. The origins of the crystal skulls vary. The crystal skulls attributed to the Maya are common but some claim to be Mixtec and Aztec. No quartz crystal skull has been found at an archaeological dig or site. They seem to appear magically out of thin air and with a cloudy history. Examined with high-powered microscopes, they reveal marks indicating manufacture with modern lapidary equipment. They are sometimes included because they are a big draw and attraction on exhibition. They are commonly labeled as fake or of modern origin if exhibited in museums.
These crystal skulls have taken on a new life in the New Age community that embraces quartz, crystals, auras and energy. The facination with crystal quartz skulls are another faction of that culture.
The Movie and 2012
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the anticipated collapse of the world predicted in the Mayan calendar renewed interest in these artifacts. The interest is the basis of the movie and seeks to provide links between ancient Mayan Indians and mystical insights they believe to have possessed.
At the time of the movie’s release, Jane MacLaren Walsh wrote an article, Legend of the Crystal Skulls, for Archaeology magazine, a publication of The Archaeological Institute of America. The article is about her personal experience with the crystal skulls and a good overview of their history.