and symbolism of the crystal skulls
crystal skulls are likely to have originated in Central America
and may have performed an important role in re-enacting the Mayans'
creation myth and networking their temple complexes.
Relics or Alien Artefacts?
researchers have written dozens of books and hundreds of articles
about crystal skulls, few have attempted to explain the origin
and purpose of these sculptures. For some, the crystal skulls
are 19th-century "hoaxes"; for others, they are extraterrestrial
artefacts, while yet others believe they are remnants of a lost
Perhaps the most likely explanation is that they are part and
parcel of the ancient cultures, particularly the Mayan, that existed
in the area of Central America where they were found. Could it
be that these skulls were one of the most important relics in
the sacred temple complexes? Crystal skulls speak to the imagination,
but are some of these skulls and their stories too good to be
The English artist Damien Hirst focused his 2007 exposition "Beyond
Belief" around a platinum skull completely covered by 8,601
diamonds weighing 1,106 carats. "For the Love of God"
is a life-sized cast of a human skull containing a single large
diamond in the middle of the forehead, reportedly worth US$4.2
million alone. Hirst financed the project himself, and estimated
its cost as between £10 and £15 million (approx. US$20–US$30
million). It is the most expensive piece of contemporary art ever
created. He later sold the skull to an unnamed investment group
for £100 million (approx. US$200 million).
The fourth instalment of the Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones
and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, has Indy in a race against
Soviet agents to find a crystal skull. In an early episode of
the television series Stargate SG-1, a crystal skull was used
as an artefact, left behind by an ancient extraterrestrial civilisation,
which transported people between Earth and the aliens' home world.
Crystal skulls have therefore served Hollywood and the entertainment
industry well. But Tinseltown's plotlines are very much copied
from existing theories about crystal skulls – one of which
was insured for US$500,000, and this was 30 years ago. But what
The crystal skulls began their slow climb to fame in the 1980s,
largely through researcher Joshua Shapiro's meeting Sandra Bowen
and Nick Nocerino, who had a crystal skull named Sha-Na-Ra in
their possession. Slowly, Shapiro became exposed to a number of
other skulls, with names such as the Mayan Crystal Skull, the
Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull and the Texas Crystal Skull (also
known as Max, supposedly given to the people of Guatemala by a
In March 1989, Bowen, Shapiro and Nocerino's Mysteries of the
Crystal Skulls Revealed was released. The book created a vehicle
through which the authors were able to "meet" several
more skulls, with names such as Windsong, Rainbow, Madre, Synergy
and even ones named Skully and ET. ET is a smoky quartz skull
found in the early 20th century in Central America. It was given
its nickname because its pointed cranium and exaggerated overbite
resemble those of an alien being (and the skull is somewhat similar
to the alien-looking one that Indiana Jones needs to find). ET
is part of the private collection of Joke (pronounced "Yo-kay")
Van Dieten, who tours with her skulls to share the healing powers
she believes they possess.
Today, there are dozens of crystal skulls in circulation. The
majority of these are what are perhaps best called "second-generation"
skulls – modern fabrications, owned or "worked"
by people who use the skulls for healing, meditation, channelling,
etc. But there are also a dozen or so skulls that appear to be
older and from unknown provenance. These crystal skulls have largely
appeared out of nowhere, often going straight into private collections.
Only two skulls sit in museums – one in London, the other
Controversy over Fabrication
British Museum Skull is part of the exhibit at the Museum of Mankind
in London, where it is one of the most popular items on display.
The label on its case reads "originally thought to have been
Aztec, but recent research proves it to be European", of
late 19th-century fabrication. The museum obtained the skull for
£120 in 1897 from Tiffany & Co., the New York-based
jewellers. As to how Tiffany's had acquired it, speculation was
that it originated from a soldier of fortune in Mexico.
In 2004, Professor Ian Freestone, of the University of Wales at
Cardiff, examined the skull and concluded that it was cut and
polished with a wheeled instrument, which he said was not used
by the Aztecs (see http://hnn.us/roundup/comments/9582.html).
Freestone argued that the sculpture was therefore of modern, post-
Columbian origin, further noting that the crystal used was common
in Brazil but not Mexico – the Aztec homeland – and
that "the surface of the skull, which contains tiny bubbles
that glint in the light, is more sharply defined than softer-looking
Aztec crystal relics with which it has been compared". However,
Freestone said that even though there was strong circumstantial
evidence suggesting the artefact was 19th-century European in
origin, this did not amount to cast-iron proof.
In recent years, the story of how the British Museum acquired
the crystal was investigated by Dr Jane MacLaren Walsh of the
US Smithsonian Institution. She concluded that the British Museum
Skull and the one at Musée de l'Homme (Museum of Man) in
Paris were both sold by Eugène Boban. Boban was a controversial
collector of pre-Columbian artefacts and an antiques dealer who
ran his business in Mexico City between around 1860 and 1880.
Though it is indeed likely that Boban placed the skull at Tiffany's
for auction, there is no hard evidence. However, such evidence
does exist for the Musée de l'Homme Crystal Skull, which
in 1878 was donated by collector Alphonse Pinart who had bought
it from Boban. Boban's 1881 catalogue does list another crystal
skull, "in rock crystal of natural human size", selling
for 3,500 French francs – the most expensive item in the
catalogue. It is possible it was never sold, and hence was offered
to Tiffany's to sell at auction.
Having established these facts, however, Walsh then argued that
the skulls are not genuine artefacts but instead were manufactured
between 1867 and 1886 in Germany, as German craftsmen were deemed
to be the only people with the skills to be able to carve these
Though Boban was indeed a controversial figure, he was, of course,
no different from all the other operators on the antiquities markets
in those days – some of whom made deals for treasures such
as the Rosetta Stone or the Elgin Marbles that continue to upset
entire nations from which they were "exported".
However, there is no evidence – not even circumstantial
– that Boban sourced these skulls from Germany. It is logical
to conclude that, as Boban operated in Mexico, he may have acquired
the skulls in Mexico. It would be completely logical to assume
that, if they are Aztec in origin, they were offered on the Mexico
City antiques market where Boban picked them up. It is the most
logical scenario, yet academics seem to prefer the modern German
fabrication theory for which there is no evidence. Why? Perhaps
they prefer to label them as fakes so as to evade potential claims
from Mexican authorities?
As to the fact that the skulls were polished with a wheeled instrument,
Professor Freestone himself argued that this in itself does not
mean they are modern fabrications (he examined the Paris as well
as the London skull in 2004). Though Freestone, Walsh and others
suggested this overturns the likelihood that the skulls are pre-Columbian,
other experts like Professor Michael D. Coe of Yale University
stated that evidence of wheel markings in no way proves that the
skulls are modern. He actually said that although it has long
been accepted that no pre-Columbian civilisation used the rotary
wheel, new evidence contradicts this scientific dogma. Wafer-thin
obsidian ear-spools are now known to have been made using some
rotary carving equipment and to be dated to the Aztec/Mixtec period.
According to Chris Morton and Ceri Louise Thomas in The Mystery
of the Crystal Skulls, Coe concluded (p. 226): "People who
sit in scientific laboratories don't know the full range of the
culture they're dealing with. We really don't know half as much
about these early cultures as we think we do. People need to re-examine
Walsh and some of her colleagues have largely presented Boban
as a charlatan, but they've failed to report that Boban was known
to have owned genuinely ancient artefacts as well as a collection
of rare books and early Mexican manuscripts. He had even written
a scientific study, "Documents pour server à l'histoire
du Mexique" ("Documents to serve the history of Mexico")
(1891). Furthermore, he personally crusaded against frauds and
fakes, such as in 1881 when he spoke out against forgeries that
were being made in the suburbs of Mexico City. Would he shoot
himself in the foot that same year by listing a fraudulent crystal
skull in his catalogue?
Mentions of the German connection and claims of Boban's dishonesty
come from a single letter from one of Boban's competitors, Wilson
Wilberforce Blake. He wrote how they should buy from him, not
Boban, who was "not honest", and he made accusations
that the skull Boban had sold was a forgery, insinuating that
the skull had been made in Germany instead. However, no evidence
was ever produced for any of these claims, and it is clear that
Blake had an obvious motive as to why he wanted to smear Boban's
character: he was specifically after Boban's share of the market.
In short, Walsh has uncovered good indications that Boban had
skulls and sold them; but as to a German connection, she has relied
on the words of a man who almost openly stated that he was out
to smudge Boban's ethics. As such, the story of how the crystal
skulls have been treated by academics has – alas –
all the usual hallmarks of how the scientific establishment treats
such anomalous finds and pushes them aside, labelling them fakes.
And afficionados of the genre will know that involvement of the
Smithsonian Institution and the British Museum in such a controversy
is not a unique event.
these skulls be genuine archaeological finds? As Morton and Thomas
pointed out, Boban's artefacts went on sale at a time when Teotihuacán,
just north of Mexico City, was being excavated. Teotihuacán
is one of the most important sites in the Americas, with pyramids
– and a pyramid layout – on par with the pyramids
of the Giza Plateau.
Boban is known to have visited the excavations; in fact, he did
so in the company of Leopoldo Batres, the Inspector of Monuments.
Interestingly, Blake claimed that Batres, too, was "not only
a fraud but a swindler". Even if these allegations were true,
did Boban get the skull from Teotihuacán? If so, the finger
of guilt should not point to Batres. In those days, half of the
finds the excavators made ended up on the black market, while
the other half became part of the "archaeological record".
It is known that even the great Howard Carter, in his exploration
of the Tutankhamun tomb – heralded as the greatest archaeological
discovery of the 20th century – fell victim to this.
Either way, concluding that the skulls are genuine archaeological
treasures is more logical – and better documented –
than speculating about a theoretical German connection. However,
it is a fact that none of the skulls was found during an archaeological
excavation – that is, apart from the so-called Mitchell-Hedges
Crystal Skull, named after its discoverer, the adventurer F. A.
(Mike) Mitchell-Hedges, if we believe the "official"
version of its find. This skull is by far the most beautiful,
detailed and complex, and consists of two parts: the skull itself
and a separate jawbone which allows for movement, as if the head
is speaking. Famed science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke used
an image of this skull as the logo for his popular television
series Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World.
The official version goes that the skull was found in the ruins
of Lubantuun in Belize (then British Honduras) in 1924 during
an archaeological survey of the site, though controversy reigns
over this conclusion. This "Skull of Doom", as Mitchell-Hedges
himself labelled it, was not referenced until 1931 as being in
In his autobiography Danger My Ally (1954), Mitchell-Hedges stated
that "the Skull of Doom is made of pure rock crystal and
according to scientists it must have taken 150 years, generation
after generation working all days of their lives, patiently rubbing
down with sand an immense block of rock crystal until the perfect
skull emerged". He continued: "It is at least 3,600
years old and according to legend was used by the High Priest
of the Maya when performing esoteric rites. It is said that when
he willed death with the help of the skull, death invariably followed.
It has been described as the embodiment of all evil." For
a man who had "danger" as his "ally", he obviously
tried to frighten his readers with the power of this object.
So, Mitchell-Hedges associated the crystal skull with the Maya
in 1600 BC – when the Maya were not yet around. Noting Mitchell-Hedges's
interest in finding evidence for Atlantis, many people have argued
that the skull is therefore a relic of this earlier civilisation.
What the sceptics have made of this can be easily divined...
A Crystal Legacy
three main theories exist about what crystal skulls are and where
they come from. One argument states that they are an extraterrestrial
legacy; another that they are remnants of a lost civilisation
(often to be read as Atlantis), both of which are favoured on
the New Age circuit. For the sceptics, they are "obviously"
late-19th-century fabrications from Germany. A fourth theory,
however, might be closer to the truth.
The problem of the crystal skulls is that they are made of crystal.
Quartz crystal does not age; it does not corrode, erode, decay
or change in any way with time. It cannot be carbon dated. A skull
could be hundreds if not thousands of years old, yet still look
as if it was made yesterday – and vice versa. Hence, other
means of dating had to be devised, and so evidence of skulls having
been polished with wheels has become the key determinant of whether
they are modern/post-Columbian or "genuine" archaeological
As mentioned, Michael Coe has scorned those laboratory scientists
who have preached against the authenticity of the skulls. And
rightfully so, as one skull, owned by Mexican Norma Redo, is mostly
notorious, at least for some, as the skull that supports a large
crucifix on its top. The skull shows similar "evidence"
of wheelwork, but from his analysis archaeologist Dr Andrew Rankin
argued that the skull was sculpted from the same crystal as that
of the crystal goblet from tomb no. 7 at Monte Albán, which
is an uncontested archaeological find. Furthermore, the 1571 hallmark
on the crucifix is also deemed to be genuine, thus in general
excluding the likelihood that this skull is of 19th century European
fabrication. In short, this hard evidence confirms what Michael
Coe has argued: that the Maya apparently do seem to have been
able to work with crystal... and thus may have made the crystal
skulls after all.
However, the Maya would not have been the only ancient civilisation
to have mastered working with crystal. Robert Temple's The Crystal
Sun (2000), subtitled Rediscovering a lost technology of the ancient
world, was promoted thus: "Based upon 33 years of research
all over the world, in museums from Stockholm to Shanghai, from
Athens to Cairo, and in thousands of books in several languages,
Robert Temple has reconstructed a wholly forgotten story: the
story of light technology in ancient civilisation. It goes back
at least to 2600 BC in Old Kingdom Egypt, and continues throughout
Temple's quest began when he spoke to Arthur C. Clarke about the
Mitchell-Hedges Skull, whereby British science historian Derek
Price, who is most famous for his study of the Antikythera device
(another anomalous archaeological discovery that only recently
has received serious academic attention), then spoke to him about
the Layard Lens as another example of our forefathers having worked
In the mid-19th century, English archaeologist Sir John Layard
excavated the remains of Babylon and Nineveh. In 1850, during
the excavation of the throne room of the Assyrian King Sargon
II's palace, he discovered a lens. It is dated to 721–705
BC and is currently – also – in the British Museum.
It is considered to be the first used (or found) plano-convex
Temple notes on his website: "...this rock crystal lens,
now cracked and considerably damaged, was originally a perfect
convex lens with a flat ('plane') base, which was ground in a
special way known to opticians as 'toroidal' – a technique
only available for the public since about 1900. Such grinding
produces lenses to correct for individual cases of astigmatism.
It would be possible to go out into the street today and find
someone whose astigmatism was perfectly corrected by the Layard
Lens... It is most extraordinary that such a high technology existed
in the 8th century BC. And not a single Assyriologist has acknowledged
the publication of my study of this important object except for
the one who encouraged me in the first place; he was curious as
to what the results would be. So it appears that the community
of Assyriologists find it convenient not to 'see' my book."
Why? Largely because, as with the crystal skulls, the establishment
believes – for that is what it is – that only from
the 19th century were "we" able to do such things.
However, archaeologists are not totally denying the existence
of lenses in antiquity, as evidenced in a study by George Sines
and Yannis A. Sakellarakis (American Journal of Archaeology, vol.
91, no. 2, April 1987), reporting how "...a recent find in
the Idaean Cave in Crete of two rock crystal lenses of unusually
good optical quality led to this investigation of other lenses
from antiquity. The evidence indicates that the use of lenses
was widespread throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean
basin over several millennia." They added: "The use
of lenses as burning glasses in Classical Greece is noted, as
is the need for magnifying lenses to authenticate seal impressions."
Scientific Scrutiny of the "Skull
1936, eminent anthropologist G. M. Morant and Adrian Digby, a
future Keeper of the Department of Ethnology at the British Museum,
analysed the Mitchell-Hedges Skull and argued that it is not of
modern workmanship. Digby wrote: "...in neither case [they
analysed the British Museum Skull as well] is there any trace
of identifiable tool marks, and it is certain that neither specimen
was made with steel tools. On the teeth there is no trace of a
lapidary's wheel which would betray one or both specimens as being
of comparatively recent origin." Writing in the journal Man
in July 1936 (vol. 36), they both commented that the skull's detachable
lower jaw would have taken the creator – whoever he was
– many hundreds if not thousands of hours of extra work,
and that thus there would have to have been an important reason
why the jaw had to be detached – more so than for purely
artistic reasons. In 1964, Anna "Sammy" Mitchell-Hedges
– the adventurer's adopted daughter and custodian of the
Skull of Doom – lent the skull to Frank and Mabel Dorland,
famous art experts and restorers. Dorland commenced his study
by taking many photographs from various angles. He also used a
binocular microscope to create a three-dimensional image of the
During this scientific analysis, the skull also seemed to reveal
a magical dimension. One evening, Dorland finished his work too
late for the skull to be returned to its vault in the Mill Valley
Bank. So he took the skull home, placing it next to the fire he
had lit for the evening. He then noticed how the light of the
fire was reflected through the eyes of the skull. This made him
realise that the skull allowed certain optical effects to be produced
– though other stories state that throughout the entire
evening the house was also a hive of poltergeist activity.
Dorland discovered that the optical effects were the result of
how the skull had been carved, which gave him even further insights
into the precision of the workmanship. He observed that there
was a type of "layering" on top of the skull, which
made the skull behave like an amplifying glass. The back of the
skull channelled the light through the eye sockets at the front
of the head. While no one would be able to see what was happening
from behind the skull, anyone looking at the face would perceive
a spectacular series of images that would appear to come from
within the skull itself.
Finally, Dorland discovered two holes at the bottom of the skull
that are invisible when the skull is positioned upright. The holes
can be used so that the skull can be swung without falling over.
Together with the detachable jaw, this was a further indication
that this skull was not a mere display object but had been created
to perform certain functions: to move, if not pretend to speak
(via the detachable jaw), and to "project" certain images
to the observer standing in front of it.
In December 1970, Dorland took the skull to the laboratories of
Hewlett-Packard in Santa Clara, California, at the time one of
the world's most advanced centres for computers and electronics.
The lab technicians were specialists in the production of precision
quartz crystals, which were used in various high-tech instruments.
It meant that they were perfectly suited for trying to figure
out how the skull could have been made.
One test revealed that the skull was made out of one piece of
quartz, with the separate jawbone coming from the same piece.
The lab technicians stated that they were unable to create a skull
like that with the technology available to them in 1970. Their
analysis showed that the skull exhibited three different types
of workmanship, and hence they suggested that work on it was carried
out over three generations, or a period of 60 to 70 years –
about half the time Mitchell-Hedges argued it would have taken
to make: 70 versus 150 years, a small difference nevertheless.
That three generations would have worked, day in, day out, on
creating one skull was an unlikely scenario, and thus the skull
was proposed to have been created with "unknown technology"
– which soon became interpreted as being of alien origin
or from a previous civilisation that was technologically superior
to ours, which quickly got linked with Atlantis. This was, of
course, what Mitchell-Hedges had always claimed: that this skull
was physical evidence of a lost, advanced civilisation.
Larry LaBarre was one of the testers at Hewlett-Packard and a
decade after the 1970 tests he added to his previous observations:
namely, that the quartz is very hard, measuring nine out of a
possible 10 on Moh's scale, meaning that only a diamond would
be able to cut it. The quartz, though of one piece, was furthermore
composed of three or four growth phases, each with a different
axis. Cutting it would have been extremely difficult, as hitting
upon a new axis might shatter the crystal if the cutter was not
careful. (This is one of the main reasons why larger diamonds
are more valuable; it is not solely the stone but the workmanship
involved that makes large diamonds expensive.)
As for the origin of the quartz, LaBarre suggested Calaveras County
in California. However, gem expert Allan Jobbins, who researched
the skulls for the Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World TV program,
thought the likely origin of the crystal was Brazil.
Skull Visions and Mayan Symbolism
Mitchell-Hedges on one of his expeditions into the Mayan heartland
recent years, controversy has raged around the creation of the
skulls. With unknown provenances for them all, there are legitimate
questions to pose. One of the problems is that if they are archaeological
treasures, their purpose seems difficult to ascertain. Indeed,
archaeologists have failed to look towards the crystal skulls
as items of archaeological interest, and hence this blank canvas
has been used by many people to put forward their own speculations,
some more outlandish than others.
As noted, Mitchell-Hedges believed that if a Mayan priest held
the "Skull of Doom" while killing someone in his thoughts,
that person would die. He also believed that, equally, those not
convinced of the power of the skull would die. Anna Mitchell-
Hedges said that the skull "spoke" to her.
In recent times, many people have used the skulls for scrying,
or visual meditation sessions. Many have reported visions, often
scenes from an ancient or foreign civilisation. The scenes witnessed
vary strikingly, however. Some people have reported observing
scenes from Mayan history, while others have reported receiving
knowledge from Atlantis.
Such landscapes might actually be due to the technological aptitude
of its creator(s). Frank Dorland noted the presence of two prisms
within the crystal. He argued that the artist made full use of
this and that the skull was therefore perfectly suited for oracular
utterances. He made a series of photographs looking into the skull;
these were able to capture the series of "visions" that
others have had. In some, he distinguished truncated pyramids;
in others, a structure like the US Capitol Building, which has
a contemporary equivalent in Chichén Itzá in the
Caracol; while in still other images, several little skull shapes
manifested themselves. Dorland added that these images only materialised
when looking through the right eye socket and that no such shapes
could be seen when staring into the left eye socket.
Such information, however interesting, does not provide any firm
evidence of the crystal skull's true purpose. For this, we need
a clear frame of reference – and this has to be the Mayan
civilisation, which existed until a mere four centuries before
these skulls were discovered in Mexico.
One proposition came from American archaeologist Professor Sylvanus
G. Morley, who argued that within the Mayan world the skull was
the symbol for the number 10: "the head-variant for 10 is
the death's head, or skull, and in forming the head-variants for
the numbers from 14 to 19 inclusive, the fleshless lower jaw of
the death's head was the part used to represent the value of 10
in these composite heads for the six higher numbers".
Though once again interesting, this proposition does not bring
us any closer to an understanding as to the skull's real purpose.
However, it does show that in the Mayan world the symbology of
the skull was indeed important. There are stone skulls throughout
the ancient Mayan kingdom. One such skull stands at the Temple
of the Inscriptions in Palenque and another in Tikal. Both skulls
are carved at the top of a row of steps leading into a room that
seems to have been a shrine. A stone skull is also found at the
entrance to the cave beneath the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacán.
But most skulls are to be found on the Tzompantli ("Platform/Place
of Skulls"), one of the most famous of which is at Chichén
The Skull in Mayan Creation Mythology
of the Skull, Chichen Itza
the skulls were discovered in the Mayan heartland is evidence
which accords with the few facts that we know of their provenance.
The Mayan Skull and the Amethyst Skull were allegedly found in
Guatemala early in the 20th century. The Amethyst Skull is made
of purple quartz and the Mayan Skull is clear, but the two are
otherwise very alike. Like the Mitchell- Hedges Skull, both were
studied at Hewlett-Packard and they, too, were found to be cut
against the axis of the crystal, making the craftsmanship all
the more difficult and the crystal all the more likely to crack
or shatter during the fashioning process.
Of more direct relevance is that Nick Nocerino claims that he
met a shaman in 1949 while travelling in Mexico. The shaman led
him to a Mayan priest who said he was authorised to sell crystal
skulls because the village needed money for food. Nocerino didn't
buy them, but he did study them. However, it was clear that someone
was putting these skulls on sale in Central America. What happened
then had happened before, and entire Mayan villages are known
to have been "financially supported" by the sale of
archaeological goods that at one point they had placed on the
black market. With all that on offer, why would Boban need to
source a German crystal skull, pay for it and then actually have
great difficulty selling it?
Thus there is one likely and logical conclusion, which is that
the skulls came from somewhere in Central America. It suggests
that these skulls were acquired by certain people through "some"
means that did not see the light of day, and that some time later
they ended up at auction, the traceability of their origin largely
But if they are of Central American origin, what purpose did the
skulls serve, assuming they are archaeological treasures? It is
a fact that all the sacred centres, including Lubantuun where
Mitchell-Hedges allegedly discovered his crystal skull, had a
Tzompantli which formed part of the sacred layout of the temple
complex, which itself was a three-dimensional rendering of the
Mayan creation myth.
This myth states that when playing ball, the twin maize gods disturbed
the lords of Xibalba, the Mayan underworld. The Xibalbans summoned
the two maize gods to the underworld to answer for their disrespectful
behaviour, where they were subjected to a series of trials. When
they failed these tests, they were killed and buried in the ball
court of Xibalba. The elder twin was decapitated, and his head
was hung in the tree next to the ball court as a warning to anyone
who might repeat their offence. Later, and despite this warning,
the daughter of a Xibalban lord went to visit the skull, which
spoke to her, spitting in her hand and thus making her pregnant.
The site where the skull was hung was the Tzompantli, and in sites
such as Chichén Itzá it is still a clearly identifiable
part of the temple complex.
One of the tasks of the Mayan high priests was, of course, to
"perform" the creation myth. The skull in Mayan mythology
was linked with the hero's death, but also with rebirth. It is
therefore intriguing to note that the explanation of the crystal
skull serving as part of the Mayan creation myth does conform
roughly with Mitchell-Hedges's interpretation of the skull's use.
This creation story has clear parallels with the technical capabilities
of the Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull. A skull made of crystal
would indeed leave the impression that this was the skull of a
deity, not of a mere mortal. It should be noted that the Mitchell-Hedges
Skull has no suture marks on the pate. Though experts agree that
adding such an effect to the skull would have been very easy to
do, the absence of such marks has several connotations. It suggests
the skull, though human looking, is not that of an ordinary being.
It suggests that the skull's "owner" either was born
as an adult or/and was somehow a divinity, a perfect being. Furthermore,
the detachable jaw would have allowed the skull to "speak",
as the hero's skull is known to have done in the creation myth.
Noting that the skull in this myth spat, the Mayans might have
engineered that effect, too, through the use of the movable jaw
that the Mitchell-Hedges Skull possesses.
Dorland demonstrated that, in order to give it the illusion of
speaking, the skull could be moved by using the two holes in its
base. A rod, thrust up through another hole in the altar and into
the larger hole in the base of the skull, would provide the means
whereby motion could be given to the crystal. The smaller hole
in the skull's base would serve as the receiver for a pivot point
on which the skull would move. The skull's ability to portray
images would furthermore have helped the person standing in front
of it to have visions or at least be able to dream away...
A New Era and the "Gathering
of the Skulls"
brings us to another often overlooked question which few people
have asked: why crystal? As already mentioned, crystal skulls
are now frequently used for scrying, and the use of crystal balls
in mediaeval Europe was very similar to the modern use of crystal
skulls in the New Age community. However, within a Mayan framework,
we can go much further.
Part of the Mayan creation myth was the lighting of a New Fire,
in a so-called New Fire Ceremony which also signalled the start
of a new era. The New Fire, made by the gods, was a key aspect
of the "esoteric rites" – to quote Mitchell-Hedges.
Today, this type of ceremony is best known in the lighting of
the Olympic Flame which occurs in the run-up to a new era –
the Olympiad – in the Greek temple of Olympia. Here, 11
women, playing the roles of the priestesses who were originally
responsible for keeping the temple's sacred fires alight, perform
a ceremony in which the torch is kindled by the light of the Sun,
its rays concentrated by a parabolic mirror. As already noted,
lenses were used in antiquity to concentrate light. In Greece,
fire had divine connotations, and legends state that it had been
stolen from the god Zeus by Prometheus. But Greece was but one
of dozens of civilisations, whether in the Old or the New World,
in which fire played an important and sacred role. The Mayan civilisation
It is therefore of great interest to know that the Mitchell-Hedges
Skull is able to start a fire if the Sun's rays fall at a particular
angle on the back of the skull. Visually, it would mean that the
bright sunlight coming out of the nose, mouth and eyes would start
a fire, very much like the sacred fire in Olympia. Rather than
use a parabolic mirror, did the ancient Mayans use a crystal skull
to light the New Fire, the core ingredient that marked the start
of a new era?
If this interpretation is the correct one, then there would have
been one skull per religious site. This would make them very rare
– but we already know that these skulls are indeed extremely
rare. Though at present there is no hard evidence to prove it,
this theory has the advantage of fitting with all the available
evidence – unlike some more "academic" theories.
If correct, it does make the crystal skulls powerful symbols:
the residence of gods. And it is perhaps not a coincidence that
the crystal from which the Mitchell-Hedges Skull was made is the
same material used in modern technological appliances to store
It is clear that some of the "psychic communications"
between some people and the skulls make for "extravagant"
and at best unlikely claims. Sceptics have had a field day with
tales of how the skulls are of alien origin, perhaps from such
star systems as the Pleiades or Orion, and claims that they may
be hundreds of thousands of years old.
But someone listening to a record with a broken needle will hear
a very distorted communication. He is likely to conclude that
the needle needs replacing and that this will thus allow him to
hear the record correctly. In the case of the crystal skulls –
made out of a material that is known to be able to store information
and to be an electrical conduit – could it be that we have
the record but we are still in search of the correct record-player?
For their book, Morton and Thomas interviewed several North, Central
and South American Indians. Time and again, the authors were confronted
with stories of how these crystal skulls are important. They were
told that the Maya had a total of 13 such skulls – 13 being
an important number for them and, interestingly, derived from
the number of joints in the human body (ankles, knees, hips, wrists,
elbows, shoulders, neck). We can only speculate on whether there
were 13 primary temple complexes in the Mayan world, that each
had a crystal skull, and that somehow these skulls formed a network.
Either way, the Native Americans argue that these 13 skulls should
be reunited, with 12 skulls in a circle and a 13th in the centre.
Though this imagery has become very popular within the New Age
community as a "Gathering of the Skulls", believed to
signal a New Age of Enlightenment, it may be nothing more –
or less – than the Native Americans remembering their common
heritage and what the crystal skulls originally represented.
article appeared in Nexus Magazine, Volume 15, Number 3 (April
- May 2008). An earlier version of this article, with many differences,
appeared in Frontier Magazine 1.3 (1995).