The Crystal Skull of Doom
‘Crystal skulls’ are enigmatic and controversial objects. Believed by some to be ancient artifacts with extraordinary magical and healing properties, and dismissed by others as relatively modern forgeries, there is no agreement about their origins. Some researchers have claimed that there are thirteen crystal skulls located in various secret places around the world, only five of which have so far been located.
Crystal skulls themselves are models of human skulls carved from clear quartz crystal, and the examples so far recovered vary in size from a few inches to the size of a human head. Where the skulls originated or what they were used for is a mystery, but an origin with the pre-Columbian cultures of South America, such as the Aztecs and Maya, has been suggested for many of them. In Mesoamerican cultures like the Aztec these artefacts were known as ‘skull masks’ or ‘death heads’. Without doubt the most fascinating and puzzling of these crystal skulls is the ‘Mitchell-Hedges Skull’, which possesses an eerie, alluring beauty, unequalled in other examples. This mysterious object has been the topic of conversation for many people all over the world, like the children who heard of a mysterious crystal skull from their parents to the dutiful student studying online for his masters in political science. Even the working professional who has received their online MBA degree and is now working in a completely irrelevant field.
The baffling story of the ‘Skull of Doom’, as this artefact has become known, is almost as strange as the object itself.
The ‘Mitchell-Hedges Skull of Doom’
‘The Skull of Doom is a life-size rock which weighs around 5.19kg (11 lb, 7 oz) and is beautifully carved from a single clear quartz crystal. The skull features a fitted detachable jaw, which would allow for movement as if the head was speaking. Apart from small flaws in the temples and cheekbone it is an anatomically correct model of a human skull. The origins and discovery of this enigmatic artefact are shrouded in a thick fog of mystery; consequently the Mitchell-Hedges Skull has no confirmed provenance. The story goes that in 1927 (or possibly 1924) English explorer and adventurer F.A. Mitchell-Hedges (1882-1959) was investigating the ruins of a Mayan ceremonial centre at Lubaantun (“Place of the Fallen Stones”) Belize, as part of his search for the lost site of Atlantis. With Mitchell-Hedges on this expedition was his adopted daughter Anna Mitchell-Hedges. On Anna’s 17th birthday she was wandering around the site, when she found the top part of the rock crystal skull, underneath what appeared to be an altar.
Three months later, in the same room, the jaw part of the skull was discovered. After seeing the reaction of the locals to this strange discovery Mitchell-Hedges apparently offered this skull to them. But later, as he and his party were about to depart from the area, the local high priest gave the skull to Mitchell-Hedges as a gift, in gratitude for the food, medicine and clothing the explorer had given to his people.
Severe doubts were cast on this romantic story with the discovery that Mitchell-Hedges had in fact bought the skull for £400 at Sotheby’s, London, in 1943, from Sidney Burney, the owner of an art gallery. This would tie up with the fact that Mitchell-Hedges inexplicably makes no mention of the skull in the various newspaper articles on Atlantis which he authored in the 1930s, and the lack of photographs of the exotic artifact among those taken on his Lubaatun expedition.
In fact Mitchell-Hedges did not write anything about the skull until 1954, when he devoted only a few vague lines to it in his book Danger My Ally, the first time he mentions the Crystal Skull since its alleged discovery in 1927. Perhaps this was why Hedges wrote about the Skull of Doom ‘how it came to be in my possession I have reason for not revealing.’ Further evidence against Hedges discovering the artefact in Belize is provided in the July 1936 issue of Man, the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. This issue of the journal contains an article about a study carried out of two crystal skulls, one from the British Museum, and the other called the ‘Burney Skull’. This latter artefact is none other than Hedges’ Skull of Doom, obviously at the time the property of art-dealer Sidney Burney. Nowhere in the article is there mention of its discovery at the Mayan ruins of Lubaantun or of F.A. Mitchell-Hedges.
In his book Secrets of the Supernatural, author Joe Nickell makes reference to a letter from Burney to the American Museum of Natural History, written in 1933. In the letter Burney states ‘the Rock-crystal Skull was for several years in the possession of the collector from whom I bought it and he in his turn had it from an Englishman in whose collection it had been also for several years, but beyond that I have not been able to go.’ Damming evidence indeed, though it merely casts doubt on Hedges’ story not on the genuineness of the skull itself. Whatever reason Hedges had for concocting the exotic tale, it was not his first, and he seems to have had a reputation for tall stories, which included sharing a room with Leon Trotsky and fighting with Pancho Villa.
Many of the allegedly supernatural properties and sinister legends now associated with this Crystal Skull can be traced back to Mitchell-Hedges 1954 autobiography Danger My Ally, where the artefact first acquired its title the ‘Skull of Doom’. In this book Hedges describes the skull as being used by a Mayan High Priest when performing magic rites involving a death curse, which invariably produced the demise of the intended victim. Such was the horrifying power of the skull that even if left alone it still had the ability to cause instant death. Mitchell-Hedges also stated in his book that the skull had taken an incredible 150 years to manufacture and was at least 3,600 years old. Though he provided no evidence to back up these assertions, it has become part of the folklore attached the Skull of Doom that it must have taken hundreds of years to manufacture, the makers rubbing and polishing every day of their lives to achieve the perfect shape.
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