Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Unusual Artifacts: “The Crystal Skull”

The Crystal Skull
The British Museum
Carved from one uninterrupted block of rock crystal (quartz), this life-size sculpture of a human skull was acquired by the British Museum in 1897. When the object was acquired by the Museum from New York’s Tiffany and Company, it was purported to be an ancient pre-Columbian artifact.

It isn’t.

According to records, Tiffany and Company came to possess the skull after the death of Eugene Boban, a French dealer of art and antiquities. Boban had purchased the object from an unnamed English antiques collector who had acquired the skull from a Spanish military officer in 1863. The officer had claimed that the skull was of ancient Mexican origin.

The Smithsonian's Skull
Fox News
However, between 1950 and 1990, extensive studies were made of the object to try to determine its age and origin. Dating stone objects is rather difficult. The stone is old no matter when it was carved. In 1996, the British Museum entered a collaborative effort with The Smithsonian Institute who has a similar skull in their collection. The results of this study showed that the skull in the collection of the British Museum is carved from a type of white quartz which does not come from Mexico. Examining the marks from the carving showed that the lines were too precise to have been created by ancient hand tools. Rather, the objects was turned on a lathe-mounted jeweler’s wheel. The skull was likely produced in the mid-Nineteenth Century to satisfy a growing demand for authentic-looking Mexican artifacts. Some art historians speculate the such skulls were produced for use in churches as a base for a crucifix.

This is an interesting item. Perhaps, it’s more interesting now than if it had been an actual pre-Columbian artifact. This way, at least, it’s got a mysterious tale to tell.

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