The ‘Mayan’ crystal skulls aren’t Mayan at all!

I’ve known about the legendary so-called ‘Mayan crystal skulls‘ for a long time. Heinrich Himmler allegedly owned one, and is said to have used it as a pattern for the skull badge or Totenkopf worn by his SS thugs. (His crystal skull is said to have been rediscovered in Germany earlier this year.)

Himmler’s so-called ‘Mayan’ crystal skull

Now comes the news that the so-called ‘Mayan’ crystal skulls aren’t Mayan at all. Der Spiegel reports:

There are plenty of crystal skulls, and the legends that surround them are fueled by their mysterious origins. To this day, doomsday believers and fans of esotericism assume the transparent heads are indeed products of Mayan or Aztec culture.

Until recently, many scholars held the same erroneous belief. Respected institutions, like the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington and the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, purchased the skulls from dubious dealers and displayed them in their collections. Only in recent years have the specimens quietly disappeared into museum storerooms.

Fanatical believers, however, remain unshaken in their faith that the skulls actually contain extraterrestrial information. Many fear the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012, at the end of the old Mayan calendar — and that the apocalpyse can be prevented only if all 13 crystal skulls supposedly in existence are displayed in a specific form on that day.

. . .

The skulls were brought into circulation by shrewd figures like the Paris antique dealer Eugène Boban. Sinister characters like Boban profited handsomely from the story — at a time when Western museums were furiously buying up treasures and artwork from the advanced civilization of the Mayans, which had recently become the focus of attention. “But they had very little knowledge about real artifacts,” says Rosendahl.

It was a rich seam for crooks and frauds. The British writer Frederick Albert Mitchell-Hedges claimed he had personally excavated a skull in the Mayan city of Lubantuun in Belize in the 1920s. Mitchell-Hedges was a writer of shady heroic epics, but with this cock-and-bull story he solidified his reputation as an adventurer. He advertised his alleged find as the “Skull of Damnation.”

. . .

In the past, a number of engravers and polishers from Idar-Oberstein received their training in the two centers of the rock-crystal industry, Milan and Paris. When they returned, they brought additional training to the technicians who had learned their trade in the German hinterlands. Around the end of the 19th century, the Hunsrück region had a reputation among insiders as an El Dorado for the crystal-cutting trade.

Documents confirm that crystal nodules from Brazil and Madagascar were being cut in Idar-Oberstein at the time in question. “And geochemical analyses show that the raw material for the legendary crystal skulls probably did in fact come from these two areas,” says Rosendahl.

The isolated town must have attracted traders with fraudulent intentions. “The people here have always been a secretive bunch,” says Wild. “When someone showed up and ordered a crystal skull, our ancestors made it — and it was good.”

There’s much more at the link. It’s a fascinating historical, archaeological and scientific detective story. Recommended reading.



  1. While visiting the British Museum last month I was interested to see that their example is now labelled as being "probably of European origin".

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