Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher with an interest in the mysterious.
What Is the Mitchell-Hedges Skull?
Under different circumstances—especially without the mystery and controversy surrounding it—the Mitchell-Hedges skull could be considered a work of art. Finely detailed, carved from eleven pounds of clear quartz crystal, and polished to near clarity, the skull is a sight to behold.
The Mitchell-Hedges is one of six crystal skulls purported to have been found in the ruins of Aztec and Mayan temples in Belize and Mexico. Of the six, this particular skull is closest to matching an actual human skull and is the only one to have a detachable jaw.
Still, there’s more to this skull than its mere aesthetics. Often known as the “skull of doom,” it has been embraced by New Agers and true-believers of paranormal activities who believe it holds mystical powers—in particular, the ability to forecast bad omens.
However, the skull has a sketchy, if not a dubious, history. Its discovery and origin has been scrutinized over the years. Still, this beautifully transparent skull has captured the imagination of those who have studied it.
The Discovery of the Skull
The skull was named after the father-daughter team who first introduced it to the public in 1940s. British adventurist and archaeologist Fredrick Mitchell-Hedges, along with his 17-year-old adopted daughter Anna, led an expedition to the ancient Mayan city of Lubaantum in Belize (then known as British Honduras) between 1924 and 1927. His goal was to find evidence of the existence of Atlantis, the mythical continent and civilization that many believed to have existed during the time of antiquity.
The expedition didn’t yield any evidence of Atlantis. However, according to Mr. Mitchell-Hedges's account, he and his daughter found something more fascinating. He reported that Anna was the one who found the skull. It was buried in a rubble pile next to a temple. Later, the detachable jaw was discovered in another pile nearby.
Oddly enough, Mitchell-Hedges came forward with this discovery almost twenty years later. He had good reason to come out with this “discovery” at a later time—he had to purchase it in a 1943 auction from Sotheby’s in London for £ 400 (Nickell, 1991).
Much of Mitchell-Hedges’s discovery of the skull in Belize was never substantiated. In fact, others on the expedition never recalled seeing it. Still, Mitchell-Hedges claimed he found it at that time, despite documentation that suggest he bought it at the famous auction house from its original owner, Sidney Burney.
[Dorland] claimed that it was excellent for scrying (divination or gazing at the stone to read the future) and it emitted sounds and lights depending on the position of the planets..."
His explanation for it being in the auction, as well as claiming ownership, is a strange tale as well. According to an “official website” from Anna on the subject, he claimed he had originally given it to Burney as a collateral until he could pay a debt to him. However, Burney put it up for auction and Mitchell-Hedges bought it (Carroll 2010).
After the auction, the legend of the skull grew, thanks in no small way to Mitchell-Hedges and Anna. First, Mitchell-Hedges told the world that the Skull of Doom—as he liked to call it—was a ritualistic device used by the high priests of the Mayans (some reports indicated he mentioned the Aztecs as well). He claimed “when [the priest] willed death with the help of the skull, death invariably followed.” He went on to describe it as “the embodiment of evil (Carroll, 2010).”
Anna Keeps the Legend Alive
Years later, Anna (now living in Canada) kept the legend of the crystal skull going. Through lectures, TV shows such as the 1970s show In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy, and the Internet, Anna added more details.
One such story aired on In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy, in which she claimed that the crystal skull fogged up and sweated on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
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In the 1970s, she let a crystal carver, art restorer, and Ne- Ager Frank Dorland examine the skull. He claimed that it was excellent for scrying (divination or gazing at the stone to read the future) and that it emitted sounds and lights depending on the position of the planets (that particular position was never specified).
Dorland would play another part in the skull’s legend. He made the claim that the skull came from Atlantis and was once carried around by the Knights Templar during the crusades (how it ended up in hands of the Mayan was never explained). Also, he’d make the claim that the skull must have taken 300 years to create.
A Skeptical Look at the Skull
As compelling as it sounded, others decried it as a hoax. In 2010, Jane MacLaren Walsh wrote in Archaeology Magazine that the skull was placed under a scanning electron microscope (SEM). It was made evident that the carving and polishing done on the skull was done by using modern high-speed, diamond-coated rotary devices. She came to the conclusion that the skull had been completed only a short time before its debut in 1943.
This finding backs another examination done on the Aztec Skull (another crystal skull) in 2005. Professor Ian Freestone of the University of Wales in Cardiff concluded upon his findings that the skull had been polished with a rotary or wheel instrument. Wheels of any type did not exist in pre-Columbian Mexico until the arrival of Cortez in the 16th century.
Furthermore, he discovered that the crystal used was of terrestrial origin. It was a type found in Brazil, not Mexico.
Freestone speculates that the skull was possibly made in the 19th century and was brought to Europe by a Spanish officer. From there, it became the position of a Frenchman named Eugene Boban—a name that would be linked to yet another crystal skull that’s on display at the Musee de l’Homme in Paris. Later, he sold it to a New York jeweler.
The sordid past and questionable claims made about the Mitchell-Hedges skull are hard to believe. Still, the craftsmanship of this skull is undeniable. The crystal skull is a wonderment of transparency, just like its legend.
More on the Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2016 Dean Traylor
Gerry Glenn Jones from Somerville, Tennessee on July 17, 2018:
Dean, I enjoyed reading your article. It was well researched and well written.
John Hansen from Gondwana Land on May 28, 2016:
This was very interesting, Dean. I had heard of these crystal skulls but never the story behind them. Hoax or not, it took incredible workmanship to make . Thanks for sharing.