Field Guide Friday – Crystal Skulls

An excerpt from the fabulous Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal, by Judith Joyce:

Superficially, the topic of crystal skulls seems straightforward. Crystal skulls are detailed replicas of human skulls carved from quartz crystal. That description, however, is the only straightforward thing about them. Crystal skulls are the subject of much fascination and heated debate because of the many mysteries surrounding them.

• Who carved these skulls?
• How old are they?
• What was their original purpose?
• How were they carved?
• Do these skulls possess paranormal powers?

With the exception of the last one, these questions may seem academic, but they are not. Although we can date the crystal from which these skulls are carved, precisely when they were carved remains a mystery. Nor in many cases can we determine conclusively what types of tools were used.

Most crystal skulls are generally believed to be Meso-American—either Aztec or Mayan—and to date from pre-Columbian times, meaning that they were carved before Columbus and other Europeans arrived in the Americas. (There are also Peruvian crystals skulls and Chinese jade skulls that are believed to possess paranormal powers.) This remains unverified and experts who have examined some skulls suggest that they were carved in Europe in the mid 19th century.

One thing is sure, however. These skulls were not created by primitive carving tools. Increasingly sophisticated testing methods suggest that at least some were created using modern technology, leading to yet another mystery. Who had access to this technology so long before the testing existed to identify it?

Part of the mystery is that, regardless of how ancient they may be, crystal skulls were unknown before the 19th and 20th centuries. If they existed before that, then they were carefully protected mystic secrets. The provenance of most crystal skulls is murky. They do not figure in surviving Meso-American myth or folklore, but the key word there is surviving. Vast quantities of information and artifacts were destroyed following the advent of the conquistadors and Christianity, and huge historical gaps now exist. Was information about crystal skulls destroyed? We may never know. Skulls certainly do play a significant role in traditional Central and South American spirituality, with vestiges preserved in modern Mexican Day of the Dead paraphernalia like sugar skulls and life-sized papier mâché skulls.

Many of the earliest crystal skulls brought to public attention arrived courtesy of French antiquarian and archaeologist Eugène Boban (1834-1908). Boban, an expert on Mexican art, spent much of his life in Mexico and spoke fluent Spanish and Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Did he find his skulls in Mexico as he claimed, or did he secretly commission European carvers to create them so that he could sell them as rare and expensive Mexican antiques?

Other more exotic origins for crystal skulls have also been suggested—for example, that they were rescued from Atlantis prior to its destruction or that they are extraterrestrial in origin, meaning that, regardless of where they were found on Earth, they originally came from outer space.

Crystal skulls range in size from as small as a bead to a few inches to life-sized to larger-than-life, but fascination tends to be with those that are at least life-sized. Quartz is a key component in many modern technologies, including computers and  telecommunication devices. Quartz makes it possible to program a computer, store memory, and retrieve information. A miniscule quartz chip holds massive quantities of information, including thousands of images, songs, photographs, videos, and other data. What then is the information-storing capacity of a life-sized quartz-crystal skull? Were ancient people aware of the information-storage capacity of crystal? Did they create crystal skulls to store, record, and  transmit data?

According to one legend, thirteen crystal skulls were distributed throughout what is now Latin America. (Numbers vary, with different versions of the legend suggesting more than fifty skulls.) The skulls are purportedly the equivalent of a multi-volume encyclopedia, each one a separate volume. At a pivotal moment, the skulls will be reunited so that they can re-activate the knowledge they contain and guide a new age. Some  believe that this pivotal moment will be in 2012.

Regardless of origin or initial purpose, crystal skulls have developed modern New Age and occult uses. They serve as divination tools, similar to traditional crystal balls. Some crystal skulls are believed to have the power to enhance or activate human psychic abilities. They are considered receivers and transmitters of energy. Some crystal skulls allegedly possess healing properties, including the power to heal serious diseases like cancer. Even modern crystal skulls may manifest these powers. Contemporary skulls are allegedly activated by bringing them to sacred places or into contact with other skulls, especially ancient ones.

Several crystal skulls are owned by the Smithsonian Museum, the British Museum, and the Musée de Quai Branly in Paris. Crystal skulls are featured in the 2008 movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which is based on the legend of the thirteen skulls, as well as in many other movies, novels, and video games.

For More Information:

re. the Mitchell-Hedges Skull

re. archaeological history of the skulls & pop culture in Archaeology Magazine

re. the crystal skull in the British Museum

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