Is Indy chasing a fake?

May 23, 2008

As Indiana Jones races against time to find an ancient crystal skull in his new movie adventure, he should perhaps take a moment to check its authenticity.

New research suggests that two well-known crystal skulls, in the British Museum and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, did not, after all, come from ancient Mexico. Academics now believe the British skull was made in 19th century Europe and the American one even more recently.

The British Museum bought its skull, a life-size carving from a single block of rock crystal from Tiffany and Company, New York in 1897. Its origins were unknown but there were suggestions it was of ancient Mexican origin. Human skulls worn as ornaments and displayed on racks were known to have featured in Aztec art. The skull attracted a lot of public attention and speculation it was once thought to have healing powers. Crystal skulls have since featured in many books, articles and films, most recently in the new Steven Spielberg movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

However, there have been doubts about the authenticity of the skull since the 1930s. Now an international team has used the latest scientific techniques to examine the British Museum skull and a larger white quartz skull donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1992. Electron microscope analysis for tool marks found both skulls were carved with rotary disc-shaped tool - a technology which the Ancient Mexicans did not have. Analysis of the quartz in the British Museum skull suggests it was quarried from Brazil or Madagascar - far outside the Ancient Mexicans' trading links.

The team, made up of experts from Cardiff University, the British Museum, the Smithsonian and Kingston University, concluded that neither skull could have been made in Mexico before the time of Columbus. They believe the British skull was created in Europe in the 19th century, and the Smithsonian's shortly before it was bought in Mexico City in 1960.

Professor Ian Freestone, of Cardiff University's School of History and Archaeology, said: "It is always disappointing when an intriguing artefact like a crystal skull turns out not to be genuine. However, it is important to be precise about what is authentic and what is fake if we are properly to understand our past. Maybe Indiana Jones will have better luck in his hunt for a real crystal skull!"
-end-
The team's research has just been published online in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Cardiff University

Related Skull Articles from Brightsurf:

Lizard skull fossil is new and 'perplexing' extinct species
A new species of extinct lizard, Kopidosaurus perplexus, has been described by a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin.

Bird skull evolution slowed after the extinction of the dinosaurs
From emus to woodpeckers, modern birds show remarkable diversity in skull shape and size, often hypothesized to be the result of a sudden hastening of evolution following the mass extinction that killed their non-avian dinosaur cousins at the end of the Cretaceous 66 million years ago.

Researcher reconstructs skull of two million year-old giant dormouse
A researcher has digitally pieced together fossilised fragments from five giant dormouse skulls to reconstruct the first known complete skull of the species, which was roughly the size of a cat.

Breastfeeding moms' exposure to nicotine linked to infant skull defect
Lactating mothers who use e-cigarettes or nicotine replacement therapies may be putting their breastfed babies at risk for skull defects, a new study in animals suggests.

Skull scans reveal evolutionary secrets of fossil brains
Three-million-year old brain imprints in fossil skulls of the species Australopithecus afarensis (famous for 'Lucy' and 'Selam' from Ethiopia) shed new light on the evolution of brain growth and organization.

'Little Foot' skull reveals how this more than 3 million year old human ancestor lived
High-resolution micro-CT scanning of the skull of the fossil specimen known as 'Little Foot' has revealed some aspects of how this Australopithecus species used to live more than 3 million years ago.

Dinosaur skull turns paleontology assumptions on their head
A team of researchers at the University of Alberta has unearthed a well-preserved Styracosaurus skull -- and its facial imperfections have implications for how paleontologists identify new species of dinosaurs.

Skull dimensions of Dominicans and Haitians differ despite close physical proximity
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have conducted a craniometric study (measuring the main part of the skull) on understudied and marginalized groups and found that skull dimensions of Dominicans and Haitians, who occupy a relatively small island of Hispaniola, are different from each other.

Skiing, snowboarding injuries more serious -- skull and face fractures -- in younger children
Winter sports like skiing and snowboarding are a great way to keep kids active in the winter, but they are also linked to injuries and for younger children those injuries are more likely to involve fractures to the head or face, according to new research being presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2019 National Conference & Exhibition.

T. rex used a stiff skull to eat its prey
A Tyrannosaurus rex could bite hard enough to shatter the bones of its prey.

Read More: Skull News and Skull Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.