In the movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indy chases down a mysterious Meso-American skull made out of a clear crystal substance that turns out to be the skull of an extraterrestrial being. The idea is based on a real thing and there really are a number of these amazing objects in the world. Some new-age proponents claim they have healing and supernatural powers. One author wrote that he came across indigenous Mayan descendants in possession of crystal skulls at ceremonies in temples in the Yucatán in Mexico and that the skulls contained souls of ancient Mayans who were held inside to await the time when their ancient knowledge would once again be required. In the 1970's new-age mythology created the legend that there were only 13 skulls in the world and that if they were ever brought together, amazing things would happen - in the movie's climax, they find and enter a hidden chamber deep in the Peruvian jungle which contains thirteen crystal skeletons; one missing its head.
One of the first skulls to come to the attention of the archaeological world was when English adventurer (and supposed inspiration for Indiana Jones) F.A. Mitchell-Hedges published his 1954 book Danger My Ally. He said his daughter Anna was in possession of a crystal skull that she had found 30 years before. She later said she had found the skull buried under a collapsed altar inside a Mayan temple in the Belize Jungles. In the book her father wrote that it was 3,600 years old and used by Maya priests to strike people dead by the force of their own will. Anna Mitchell-Hedges, later took the skull - now referred to as "The Skull of Doom" - on tour and it even featured on the cover of Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World book. Further skulls have come to light, one is held in the British Museum and records show they had purchased it in 1887 from an American jewellery dealer. Another was sent to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. anonymously in 1992 and the accompanying letter said it was part of an 19thC Mexican general's collection of ancient Mayan artefacts. One further skull is held in a Parisian museum and other examples are in private hands around the world. One investigation on the Mitchell-Hedges skull found that it would have taken over 150 years constant work to have sanded quartz into such a smooth finish using Mayan tools. So, the question arises, how and why did an ancient stone-age culture create such amazing artefacts in pure quartz crystal?
The answer simple; they didn't. No skull has ever been discovered in any official archaeological dig in Meso-America or anywhere else. The quartz used corresponds chemically to mines in southern Brazil not central America and, most tellingly, there are cut marks and abrasions that correspond exactly to rotary cutting tools commonly used in mid-1800's German gemstone cutting. On top of that there is documentary evidence that a number of skulls were made in Germany, quite likely at workshops in the town of Idar-Oberstein. The Rhineland town was famous for its gemstone carving and it maintained a relationship with emigres from the town who had settled in southern Brazil in the mid 1800's. There was also a French 'Antiquities' dealer named Eugene Boban who sold Aztec and Inca relics in Paris, including skulls, and it is likely he visited the town in the 1870's, purchasing a number (13?) of the manufactured curiosities before passing them off as real Aztec artefacts. One ended up in the British museum a few years later and the others have been bought and sold by various dealers and collectors over the last 150 years.