Seeing Through The Crystal Skull
|The Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull|
There is great treasure there behind our skull
and this is true about all of us.
This little treasure has great, great powers,
and I would say we only have learnt a
very, very small part of what it can do.
Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902-1991)
VJ Enterprises was founded in 1991. Their website www.v-j-enterprises.com/ tells us that they are ‘A New Age organization whose goal is to share with the public the best information which describes the prophesied Golden Age. Our services include various types of public lectures and workshops focusing on such subjects as the Crystal Skulls, UFOs, Peru, Crop Circles and the Bible Code and the Manifestation of the Aquarian Age.’
The phenomenon of crystal skulls remains a controversial archaeological mystery. We’re informed by skull fans that 13 crystal heads have been discovered in various locations around the world, from Tibet to the USA. Joshua ‘Illinois’ Shapiro, who runs VJ Enterprises, leaves their importance in no doubt. ‘I personally feel that the Crystal Skulls are not only here to share ancient knowledge and wisdom, but to assist in awakening our race to higher spiritual laws and understanding of itself ... If the Crystal Skulls were not brought by extra-terrestrials then certainly we must conclude there have been civilizations much more technologically or spiritually advanced than our own today.’
The most famous of these glittering noggins is the ‘skull of doom’, allegedly discovered in 1924 by a 17-year old Anna Le Guillon Mitchell-Hedges, (1907-2007) The discovery of the skull, allegedly found beneath an altar in Mayan temple ruins, is said to have taken place on Anna’s 17th birthday. She was on an archaeological dig at the ancient Mayan city of Lubaantun (‘place of fallen stones’) in British Honduras (now Belize) with her adoptive father, the adventurer F. A. ‘Mike’ Mitchell-Hedges (1882-1959). Mitchell-Hedges had travelled to Belize on a mission to find the ruins of Atlantis. This clear quartz skull weighs about 11 pounds and measures 5.25 inches high. It is reminiscent of stone skulls made by the Aztecs. However, Aztec skulls are stylized, and the Mitchell-Hedges skull is more realistic, complete with a detachable jaw.
The controversy over this artefact goes all the way back to its claimed day of discovery. You might think that the biggest gem ever found, among ancient stones in a jungle by a 17 year old girl, could have been the prime success of the dig. Yet despite the repetition of the story in later decades, Mike Mitchell-Hedges never mentioned it. It only appeared in his 1954 autobiography Danger My Ally, and it is dispensed with quickly, vanishing altogether in later published editions. As to the ownership of the skull, the passage in the book seems cryptic:
‘How it came into my possession I have reason for not revealing.’ He goes on to give it a brief description, that scientists believe that it took 150 years to make, it’s 3,600 years old, and ‘the embodiment of all evil.’ In fact the whole entry in the 1954 book only covers 13 lines, which, if the artefact is so important, seems curious.
Legend has it that the skull of doom was used by Mayan high priests to not only concentrate on death, but to will it. It has gathered a reputation as a malevolent relic. Apparently, if you take the mickey out of the skull, you could die, and with further shades of the popular ‘mummy’s curse’, others are supposed to have been struck down with serious illness. Yet the controversy about how the skull was discovered is based on the suspicion that Anna Mitchell-Hedges, who lived to be 100, (a bonus which caused her to re-designate her cranial guide as ‘the skull of love’ rather than ‘death’) may not have even been on the expedition at all in the 1920s, and only visited Labaantum for the first time many decades later for a TV documentary. Earlier versions of the ‘discovery’ involve the suggestion that her father ‘planted’ the skull beneath the altar, so that she could find it inside a deep hole, or cave beneath or inside of a pyramid, and enjoy the experience as a birthday present. The man behind all the myth and legend making is Mitch himself. Explorer, gambler, author, and soldier with Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution, he was quite a character.
Much of Frederick A. Mitchell-Hedges’ life was taken up as a deep-sea fisherman. He wrote numerous articles and books complete with that usual fisherman’s braggadocio about the size of ‘the one that got away’. But he didn’t refer to his sport as such; he called fishing ‘deep sea research,’ and expanded his yarns for the Randolph Hearst newspaper empire into more mystical marine territory which included sea monsters, epic struggles with giant fish, and the obligatory courageous reports of struggles with man-eating sharks. He would sail off to the Caribbean at weekends, where his penchant for tales of danger and discovery were embroidered with claims to have discovered lost continents on the seabed, as well as island tribes who had never met the white man before.
So what happened to the skull of doom once Anna was supposed to have unearthed it? According to her own version, her dad gave it to the Mayans as a gift, and apparently they ‘loved him’ for bringing them medicines and clothing. That’s a neat cover for it not appearing again in the family for another 20 years. The Mayans had it. So, how did it come to be in a collection of artefacts belonging to a London art dealer? Anna’s explanation is as follows.
When explorers in the first half of the 20th century went off on long expeditions, to beat the burglars, it was not unknown for them to leave valuable items back home in the care of friends. The skull was, apparently, left with an old school friend of Mitch’s, Sidney Burney. But in 1943, Mitch was horrified to discover that Burney had put the skull up for sale at Sotheby’s in London.
Learning of this skulduggery the day before the sale, Mitchell-Hedges was, apparently, ‘so furious that for a while he was unable to speak’. He tried to get in touch with Burney, but failed, so arose at 5 am the day of the sale and headed for London, hell-bent on getting his skull back. What transpired when the rage-muted Mitch arrived at Sotheby’s is not clear, but apparently it was Sidney Burney’s son selling the skull, not Burney Senior. Sotheby’s allegedly refused to withdraw it from the sale, so Mitchell-Hedges must have quelled his wrath with the realisation that the only way he’d get the skull back was to buy it. This he did, at a cost of £400. It seems an odd solution, because if someone had purloined your property and put it up for sale, the first thing you’d do is call the police. However, the sceptics believe that far from being ‘stolen’ by Burney, in fact this was the first time Mitchell-Hedges had come into contact with the contentious crystal noggin. According to the July 1936 issue of the British anthropological journal Man, the skull was owned then by Burney. Its history prior to the sale at Sotheby’s, from the 1920s onwards, begins to look like another of Mitch’s tall tales. Sidney Burney, and those who were on the Lubaanatun expedition, denied that Mitchell-Hedges found the skull.
After her father’s death, the skull became Anna’s property. She maintained that Burney only had the piece as collateral against a debt Mitchell owed Burney. So why didn’t he simply pay off his debt rather than travelling to London and forking out £400 – a huge sum in war-torn 1943?
Anna has occasionally put it on display, claiming it was kept in Atlantis before it was brought to Belize, and that it came from outer space. You could view it for a fee. Today, it is owned and cared for by her widower, Bill Homan, who continues to perpetuate its mystical properties.
So, what about the history of the skull itself? Is it ancient, does it have paranormal properties?
In 1970, Anna allowed a crystal carver and art dealer named Frank Dorland to examine it. Scrying (also called seeing or peeping) is a magic practice that involves seeing things psychically in a medium, usually for purposes of obtaining spiritual visions and less often for purposes of divination or fortune-telling. Dorland pronounced the skull as excellent for scrying. He claimed that, depending on the position of the planets, it emitted sounds and light. He stated that it came from Atlantis. And it gets better; those popular old rascals, the Knights Templar, had carted it around with them during the crusades. On October 27, 1970, Frank Dorland had borrowed the skull from Anna Mitchell-Hedges. One of his acquaintances was the supervisor of the Hewlett-Packard advertising account, Richard Garvin. Due to HP’s advanced scientific facilities as leaders in the manufacture of crystal oscillators, Dorland took the skull for tests to the Hewlett-Packard laboratory in Santa Clara.
At the laboratory, the skull was immersed in a tank of benzyl alcohol, which has the same refraction index as quartz crystal. In a benzyl alcohol solution, it would almost disappear. By passing polarized light through the skull and rotating it, it would be possible to locate the axis and observe ‘twinning.’ This is a splitting of the direction of crystal growth which happens under strong impact. It can happen to a single crystal, or to separate ones which can twin and grow together. Noticeably darker stress marks appearing on the Mitchell-Hedges skull showed this process around the eyes, nose, and jaw area. Dorland had suspected the skull was composed of separate pieces of quartz, but the technicians at Hewlett-Packard technicians reported that the skull, and its jawbone, was ‘almost certainly a single crystal of quartz, rather than a composite of three crystals.’ Mitchell-Hodges had already suggested that the artefact could have taken 150 years to make, so his daughter must have been over the moon when the HP boys suggested it may have taken ‘300 man-years of effort’,
The lab found that the skull had been carved against the natural axis of the crystal. Modern crystal sculptors always take into account the axis, or orientation of the crystal’s molecular symmetry, because using lasers and other high-tech tools, carving against the grain will shatter the crystal. These were wonderful additions to the skull’s growing mystique, and even more so when HP could find no microscopic scratches on the crystal indicating the use of metallic tools. Dorland’s hypothesis was that it had been hewn out with diamonds, with the finer details achieved with a combination of water and silicon.
Armed with such potent, high-tech facts, the paranormal road was open to add as many psychic attributes to the skull as you wished. Dorland, who had it for quite some time, began to experience visionary phenomena. Through the skull he claimed to be able to see buildings and architecture from various historical periods by looking into the eye sockets. He claimed it had an ‘aura’ which he found fascinating. It was said to give off the sounds of chimes, bells and other assorted noises, including chanting or singing human voices. When he had it in his bedroom overnight, he could hear what he claimed to be the sound of a jungle animal – a big cat – on the prowl.
According to the encouragingly thorough Strange Magazine (www.strangemag.com), there was an even weirder and more disturbing episode during Dorland’s possession of the skull.
Anton Szandor LaVey (above) (1930 –1997), was a writer, occultist and musician who founded the Church of Satan in San Francisco. He wrote The Satanic Bible and established LaVeyan Satanism, a synthesized system advocating materialism and individualism. Oddly enough, he described his church as ‘atheistic’ possessing no belief in the God or Devil, a claim which must have surely narked the Fallen One. As LaVey once quipped. ‘It’s hard being evil in a world that’s gone to hell’, but he did his best. It was a big mistake by Frank Dorland to allow LaVey into his house. The Frisco Lucifer, always looking for publicity, was accompanied by the editor of an Oakland newspaper. LaVey said that the skull had been made by Satan himself, and therefore must be the property of his church. Apparently Dorland had a hard time getting LaVey to leave. The ‘churchman’ was also omnipotent as a musician, and as Dorland happened to have an organ in his house, LaVey stubbornly sat at the keyboard to practice his demonic skill.
The skull should have been kept in its special vault, but on the day of LaVey’s visit, it was out of its usual sealed environment and on display in the house. Eventually the bargain basement Beelzebub departed, and Dorland and his wife put the skull away and went to bed. It was not to be a happy night. Dorland recalled that ‘All night long there were lots and lots of sounds,’ yet he searched around and could find nothing. The next morning the sleepless couple discovered that their possessions lay scattered around, although doors and windows remained locked, and there was no sign of a break-in. ‘We had a telephone dialler,’ said Dorland, ‘that had been moved from the telephone at least thirty-five feet to the front door - and it lay right across the front door threshold. I never believed that this happened until it happened to me....’ What in fact ‘happened’ seems to have been classic poltergeist activity. Needless to say, Dorland thought that LaVey’s strong, evil ‘vibrations’ had interacted with the psychic power of the skull, saying ‘I think there was a conflict of one type of energy against another type of energy which interfered somehow with physical objects.’ Eventually Anna Mitchell-Hedges took the skull back and it remained with her until her death.
The greatest expert on the world’s crystal skulls, Nick Nocerino, died in 2004. Nocerino devoted his life to studying crystal skulls, claiming that that no one knows how they were made and that they are impossible to duplicate. He founded The Society of Crystal Skulls International, an organisation that uses some unusual research methodology, including remote viewing, psychometry, and scrying, and it owns a collection of crystal skulls from around the world.
Some skulls made of stone are genuine Mesoamerican cultural artefacts from such civilizations as the Aztecs. They are known as ‘death heads’ or skull masks. That’s too prosaic for New Agers. As far as they’re concerned, these skulls are either from Atlantis or extra-terrestrial in origin. They are claimed to have magical powers, emitting weird noises, and can spontaneously produce holographic images. This is good enough reason for the purveyors of paranormal trinkets to ensure that their stalls have a good selection of skulls in all materials – crystal, steel, carved from wood, stone, moulded in resin; there are thousands available around the world today.
At least 13 other skulls have made their debut over the years, many said have magical healing powers and mystical origins. The British Museum in London has one. However, in 1966 they carried out a study and survey of these artefacts. Utilising electron microscopes, it was revealed that two of the skulls examined possessed straight, perfectly-spaced surface markings which indicated that they’d been subjected to a modern polishing wheel. The hand-polishing process on genuine ancient objects would reveal irregular tiny scratches. The British Museum’s conclusion was that the skulls were made in Germany during the past 150 years. This would explain how they were manufactured with tools unavailable to the ancient Mayans or Aztecs.
In 1992 when the Smithsonian Institute received what was insisted to be an ‘Aztec’ crystal skull from an anonymous source who claimed it was bought in in 1960 in Mexico City. Research by the Smithsonian concluded that there was a crucial link between the skulls so popular with New Agers. He was a dubious character named Eugène Boban.
Eugène Boban (or Boban-Duvergé) (1834–1908) was the official archaeologist at the court of Maximilian I of Mexico (1832-1867). Regarded as a serious French antiquarian, he was also a member of the French Scientific Commission in Mexico. He appears to have possessed a number of crystal skulls, most of which he sold, and one now resides in the Musée du Quai Branly and another in the British Museum. The Paris skull is said to represent the Aztec god of the dead Mictlantecuhtli, yet does not seem to offer any occult powers.
Perhaps Boban’s post as the French Emperor’s official archaeologist paid well, but even so it must have been a short-lived career. Maximilian was only Emperor of Mexico from 1864 to 1867, his throne provided by Napoleon III’s occupying French forces. After just three years, in 1867, the French left, but Maximilian was reluctant to give up his imperial life, mistakenly believing that the people of Mexico supported him. With his armies gone, he refused to go home, and was captured by Benito Juarez’s Republican forces and executed by firing squad on June 19, 1867.
This disaster must have left Eugène Boban high and dry and strapped for cash, but he carried on dealing in antiques in Mexico until 1880. According to conclusions reached by Jane MacLaren Walsh of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, in Crystal Skulls and Other Problems (Smithsonian Institute Press, 1996), the crystal skulls purported to be enormously ancient which were on display in various museums were only manufactured between 1867 and 1886, and it appears that Boban acquired his skulls not from ancient Mesoamerican sites but from a source in that 19th century hothouse of engineering technology, Germany.
In the May 27 2010 online edition of Archaeology (www.archaeoogy.com) Walsh states that she ‘had two opportunities to examine the Mitchell-Hedges skull closely and to take silicone molds of carved and polished elements of it, which I have analysed under high-power light and scanning-electron microscopes ...The microscopic evidence presented here indicates that the skull is not a Maya artefact but was carved with high-speed, modern, diamond-coated lapidary tools....It is not unreasonable to conclude that the Mitchell-Hedges skull, which first appeared in 1933, (when it came into Sidney Burney’s possession) was also created within a short time of its debut. ‘
The crystal skull you can see in the British Museum today first appeared in in Eugène Boban’s Paris shop in 1881. Four years later, in Mexico City in 1885 he tried to sell it as an Aztec skull, but this ruse was thwarted by the curator of a Mexican museum who denounced it as a fake. The resourceful Boban soldiered on, and according to the New York Times, December 19, 1886, he managed to flog it off at an auction at Tiffany & Co in New York City. Just over two years later, it was bought by the British Museum where it still resides in the Wellcome Trust Gallery.
The British Museum Skull
This is the BM’s caption describing the exhibit:
‘A life-size carving of a human skull made from a single block of rock crystal (a clear, colourless variety of quartz). It was acquired by the Museum in 1897 purporting to be an ancient Mexican object. However scientific research conducted by the Museum has established that the skull was most likely produced in the nineteenth century in Europe. As such the object is not an authentic pre-Columbian artefact.’
As for the skull of doom/love, if we accept the Smithsonian study, everything seems to point to it being carved in Europe, probably as a copy of the British Museum skull sometime between 1900 and the early 1930s. Who created it or sold it to Burney is unknown. Boban died in 1908, so he cannot be implicated. So perhaps the real mystical legend began when Sydney Burney finally sold the skull in London to Mitchell-Hedges at a Sotheby’s on October 15, 1943. It remains a terrific yarn, and as such it’s no surprise that Spielberg got a film out of it. Trust the paranormal to offer top line entertainment every time.