Some of the weirdest and most controversial supposed ancient artifacts of the world are the numerous crystal skulls of Mexico and Central America, mysterious items that have spurred all kinds of debate amongst scientists, archeologists, and indeed those in the field of the paranormal. The skulls themselves are typically life-sized and fashioned in great detail out of clear or smoky colored quartz crystal, often with movable jaws and painstakingly carved and ground, and their origins are just about as mysterious as their appearance. One of these crystal skulls in particular has long been associated with magical powers, curses, and mysteries, and has remained debated and discussed to this day.
Typically, crystal skulls are said to have been made many thousands of years ago in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, mostly said to come from the Aztec or Maya civilizations, and there is supposedly much legend and lore surrounding them to drive their mystique. One of the most popular legends regarding the crystal skulls is that they were forged not from human hands, but through thought alone, and that they contain vast stores of mystical knowledge, receptacles for the ancient wisdom of the gods. It was said that these skulls could speak, sing, and project telepathic thoughts, and that they also held great magical powers beyond comprehension. According to this legend, there are 13 original crystal skulls, each containing the souls of the ancients, and that if they are ever brought together they will teach us the answers to the great mysteries of the universe.
While this sounds like just a bunch of spooky legend and myth, there are indeed many crystal skulls in collections which are said to have paranormal powers orbiting them. By far the most well-known individual crystal skull was purportedly discovered in 1924 inside the ruins of a pyramid in the ancient Mayan city of Lubaantun, in what is now called Belize. The skull was allegedly found by Anna Mitchell-Hedges, the adopted daughter of famed British adventurer F.A. Mitchell-Hedges, as they were exploring an ancient Mayan pyramid in what was then called British Honduras. She would claim that she had snuck out to climb up the pyramid, and that as she had reached the top she had spied something glinting down in the darkness of a crack in the pyramid.
After telling her father of what she had seen she allegedly went with him the next morning to see what it was. Since the crack could not be accessed easily, they went about moving stones until there was enough of an opening to send young Anna to squeeze into a gloomy passageway leading into a collapsed temple, where she could see something glinting in the light of her lamp. When she examined it closer she could see that it was an exquisite skull made of scintillating pure crystal, almost completely transparent, which she described as unreal and “the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.” The skull itself, when examined, was found to be about the size of a small human skull, measuring 5 inches (13 cm) high, 7 inches (18 cm) long and 5 inches (13 cm) wide, and was thought to be extremely old. F.A. Mitchell Hedges would later write of what he called “The Skull of Doom” his 1954 memoir Danger My Ally:
It is at least 3,600 years old and according to legend it was used by the High Priest of the Maya when he was 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. I do not wish to try and explain this phenomenon.
In the years after its discovery, the skull was said to have various supernatural powers, such as glowing in the dark or projecting images as if it were a film projector, or to even implant visions directly into the mind, and is was also said to have healing abilities and to be able to read the future or manipulate the emotions of those who gazed upon it. Anna would over the years make several bold and incredible claims, such as that the skull could be used to kill a person with a thought, that it could cure cancer, and even that she had predicted the assassination of John F. Kennedy. When her father died in 1959, Anna took the mysterious skull on tour, where its ethereal, unearthly quality mesmerized throngs of curiosity seekers, and it became a popular topic for TV programs, newspaper articles, and books. This new found popularity launched the crystal skull into the popular consciousness, and all manner of wild theories swirled, such as that it was an artifact from the lost continent of Atlantis or that it had been made by aliens. However, by this time there had never really been any scientific analysis of it done.
Despite the years of mystery it was providing, it was not until the 1960s that any careful analysis would be done on what was by then called the Mitchell-Hedges skull, when it was examined by art restorer and expert in quartz crystals Frank Dorland. He carefully looked at the skull and determined that it had been crafted without the use of any noticeable metal tools, as it displayed no scratch or buff marks at all. He theorized that it had been first roughly shaped out of a lump of quartz and then painstakingly sanded away by hand over a period of 150 to 300 years, speculating that it could be over 12,000 years old.
This was curious enough, but an even more in-depth analysis would be carried out in 1970, when the skull was submitted for testing by Hewlett-Packard's crystal laboratories in Santa Clara, California. They found that the skull was composed of a single large piece of quartz, and that it was devoid of markings from machine tools except for some grinding on the teeth. It was deemed to be a work of art that would be very difficult to recreate even with modern technology, which only further deepened the mystery. The skull was also found to have some other odd properties, such as that it had positive and negative polarity and could produce an electrical charge under mechanical stress, as well as that it harbored strange optical qualities that caused light shone under it to project from the eye sockets and for reflections of the surroundings to be contained within it. Indeed, these phenomena convinced Dorland that through its electrical and optic capabilities the skull “triggered certain reflexes in the brain,” which could explain some of its supposed supernatural powers.
Anna would go on to continue to stand by the skull’s authenticity and magical powers all of her life, and many New Agers also stood by her, believing the skull to have been fashioned by some ancient advanced technology or even aliens. Anna frequently gave interviews about the skull, and maintained that she received potent visions through it, that spirits used it to communicate to her, and that it had extended her life. Indeed, she would live to the ripe old age of 100, after which the skull would fall under the ownership of her younger husband, Bill Homann, who continued to keep the mystique and legend of the crystal skull alive.
It is all a very strange odyssey for a very unique artifact, but in more recent years there has been quite a lot of skepticism aimed at the purported powers and origins of the Mitchell-Hedges skull, and indeed the phenomenon of crystal skulls in general. Pertaining to Anna’s skull, the story becomes immediately suspicious when one realizes that her father, F.A. Mitchell-Hedges, makes only one mention of the skull in all of his writings, that single passage in Danger My Ally, and there is no mention of where or by whom it was found or what had happened to it. Considering he wrote extensively and enthusiastically about his exploits at Lubaantun this seems like an odd omission. In fact, there is no actual mention of the skull by any of the others present at the dig, and there is doubt that Anna was even ever at the dig at all. Furthermore, in later years it would be found that the crystal skull had likely been purchased by her father from a Sotheby's auction in London on October 15, 1943, after which his well-known penchant for telling tall tales of the mysterious had gotten the better of him.
This is all pretty damning evidence against Anna’s claims of having found it in a collapsed chamber of a mysterious ancient Mayan pyramid, and it is thought that she more or less made the whole thing up. Considering that the tales only really started to come out after F.A. Mitchell-Hedges’ death, it is very likely that she merely crafted this amazing tale around her father’s crystal skull, with further embellishments added over the years. Further unraveling the whole tale is the fact that it seems that the skull was almost definitely not a pre-Columbian artifact at all, but a modern fake.
Although we have been mostly focused on the Mitchell-Hedges skull there are others in museums around the world as well, such as one at the Musée del’Homme's in Paris and also at The British Museum, among others, and in more recent times these have been analyzed with more advanced techniques such as electron microscopes, X-ray crystallography, and CT scans. The results have shown that the skulls do indeed seem to have been worked with some sort of modern jeweler’s rotary tool, which would use an abrasive substance such as corundum or diamond spun at high speeds with a metal tool to polish and carve the object, and this analysis puts them at no older than the 19th century. It has therefore been supposed that the Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull is the same way, possibly even a direct copy of the skull at the British Museum, although widely regarded as of better craftsmanship. It is thought that these skulls were probably fashioned in Germany in the 19th century and then later found their way to Mexico, where they were sold as curios and the legends subsequently took off around their otherworldly weirdness. This fits in with the fact that none of the known skulls on display are from recognized excavation digs, and there is additionally no verified ancient legends associated with them, meaning that there is a very good possibility that every single one of them is not pre-Columbian at all, but rather faked using modern techniques.
This has not stopped some people from believing that these are in fact ancient artifacts crafted by advanced lost civilizations or aliens. The fact that crystal cannot be dated through usual means makes it so that it is impossible to know the true age of these skulls, and the presence of machine working to the believers only means that someone had access to such technology long before modern times. Therefore, the modern analysis has done little to discourage those who really believe, and there is still much talk of the crystal skulls, their origins, and their powers to this day. Who made these artifacts? Is it, as mainstream science asserts, that they are clever modern fakes? Or is there something more mysterious going on here? The debate goes on.