Crystal skulls, Oldiana Jones, aliens and fakers.

The British Crystal Skull: Look--you can just see the flying saucer.
The British Crystal Skull: Look--you can just see the flying saucer.Courtesy seriykotik1970
First thing’s first: I’m not sure I can recommend that you see the new Indiana Jones movie. Have I seen it? As a matter of fact, I haven’t. Am I up on Hollywood buzz? Possibly, but only because I’m not sure what “Hollywood buzz” is exactly. I’m certainly not up on anything Indiana Jones 4 related.

This is a science blog, so is my issue with the archaeology? Is it bad archaeology? Absolutely it’s bad archaeology (more on that in a moment), but no, that’s not it. As it happens, I love bad archaeology most of all.

No, here’s why I don’t think you should see the new Indiana Jones: dude’s old.

Consider this: Do any of you remember seeing the “Young Indiana Jones” tv series? Remember how it ironically featured the occasional old Indiana Jones? Was that fun seeing Indy as a staggering octogenarian? Answer: no, not fun. Don’t believe me? See for yourselves. Guy’s old. How are you supposed to punch Nazis and outrun boulders like that? Also—a side note—couldn’t he save a bunch of money if he just bought monocles?

No, Indiana Jones 4 is just the prequel to old Indiana Jones. It’s going to be all about arthritis and staying regular. If I wanted to see a movie about “I’m too old for this spit,” I’d watch the Lethal Weapon trilogy, and maybe Lethal Weapon 4. In fact, maybe I will watch the Lethal Weapon trilogy (but not Lethal Weapon 4) tonight. But only for detective Martin Riggs, not for the gray hair and male girdle jokes.

Wait a second. Did I say that this was a science blog? I did—here’s the citation “This is a science blog.” So onto something like science!

Indiana Jones is all about bad archaeology. I’ll say again, however, that bad archaeology is totally fun, but it shouldn’t be confused with real archaeology. Did you ever notice how pretty much every site Indy visits, he destroys? The temple of the Hovitos, the Well of Souls, the Thuggee mine and shrine to Kali, the catacombs under Venice, the resting place of the grail in the Canyon of the Crescent Moon? All crush, collapsed, burned, or flooded.

To be clear, archaeological excavation constitutes, in many respects, the destruction of the site itself. It’s like dissecting a frog—it never works out well for the frog itself, but you can learn a lot about him by doing it. And archaeology is done very slowly. Notes and drawings are made, samples are taken, and it’s all followed up by hundreds of hours in a lab, looking at everything again. Very rarely does the destruction of a site involve sprinting through an ancient temple, clutching a creepy fertility idol.

Not only that, but recent studies take issue with the authenticity of the upcoming film’s subject, namely a certain crystal skull. Or crystal skulls.

Crystal skulls pop up now and again in archaeology, or at least in the antiquities trade. And there are about a dozen of them, in particular, that have been the subject of considerable interest and skepticism. In the late 19th century, a handful of crystal skulls turned up on the antiquities scene, reputedly coming from Aztec/Olmec/Toltec/Maya temples (distinct Central American cultures, but, for the purposes of modern-day occult fixations, probably interchangeable). The smaller of the skulls are generally agreed to be large beads, probably used in Mexican catholic practice at one point. On the other hand, the larger skulls, ranging a couple of inches on either side of life size, are magic.

That’s right, the skulls, carved of solid quartz, and scattered across the world in museums and the hands of private collectors, are freakin’ magic. Used properly, they can grant health and luck to the bearer, and death to his or her enemies. Also, UFO’s—held at a certain angle, in a certain light, it is said that the crystal depths of the skulls will reveal the unmistakable image of a flying saucer. Because we all know what a flying saucer looks like so well, we would know if we were being shown a fake. And—most importantly—some say that the 12 skulls (and a missing 13th skull) must be united before the end of the Mayan calendar (12/21/2012), or the Earth will fly off its axis. You totally know that this would suck, so start skull questing.

Anyway, all this stands to reason, right? You’ve got your skulls, your crystal skulls. You’ve got you’re mysterious, vanished people (who, you know, aren’t actually gone). Logically there are going to be some magical powers in there.

E. Boban: delving into the dark arts. At his knick-knack stand.
E. Boban: delving into the dark arts. At his knick-knack stand.Courtesy Public domain
Not so, say scientists across Europe. The authenticity of the skulls has been under question for some time, with jewelers and museum archaeologists pointing out that they were detailed with a jeweler’s drill, and polished by a wheeled machine. The wheel thing is problematic, seeing as how the Mayans never did a whole lot with the wheel, at least not mechanically. The obvious answer is that aliens gave the skulls to the Mayans (or Aztecs, or Olmecs, or Teotihuacán, take your pick), and aliens are, of course, swimming in diamond drills and wheels. Unafraid of forces they could never hope to understand, though, researchers from the French national museum service have subjected the “Paris Skull” to particle induced x-ray emission and Raman spectroscopy. And what did those spoil sports find? In addition to the clear evidence of modern tools being used to shape the skull, the quartz it’s made of comes from the Alps, not Central America. The crystal skull belonging to the British Museum is made of Brazilian quartz, although it likewise sports modern tool makes, and the Mayans aren’t known to have had any cultural connections to Brazil. Specifically, both skulls are thought to have come from a village in Southern Germany that specialized in carving just that sort of thing for crucifix bases, which might explain the identical holes on the top and bottom of the French skull. What’s more, there’s documentation that most of the skulls out there came from a Eugene Boban, a dealer of pre-Columbian artifacts, known to have slipped a few fakes in now and again.

Another skull, the “Skull of Doom,” turned up a little later than the other crystal skulls. It was supposedly dug from a temple in Belize by a British explorer, who claimed that it was at least 3,600 years old, and “used by the High Priest of the Maya when performing esoteric rites. It is said that, when he willed death with the help of the skull, death invariably followed.” The power of the Skull of Doom has apparently diminished to reports of emitting blue light, and causing the deaths of computer hard drives. And it’s also probably a fake. Or a fake of a fake even—it was probably bought by the explorer for 400 pounds from Sotheby’s in 1943.

Don’t let all this keep you from your skull quest, though. They are skulls made of crystal, after all. What more evidence do you need for their ability to keep us from spinning hopelessly into outer space in 2012?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

koallainfestation37's picture
koallainfestation37 says:

i didnt want to read the whole article
but the skull is tight

posted on Thu, 04/24/2008 - 8:36am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

This is what I like to see: serious efficiency. Article=boring, skull=tight. There's something for everyone here, even boring people!

posted on Thu, 04/24/2008 - 11:06am
tiffany_88's picture
tiffany_88 says:

It's incredible the technology and the men together because the experiments and result can be awesome.

posted on Thu, 04/24/2008 - 8:41am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

True. It really is inspiring, what you're talking about.

posted on Thu, 04/24/2008 - 11:06am
MrBig621188's picture
MrBig621188 says:

ok......this is totally BS but ok......

posted on Thu, 04/24/2008 - 8:42am
hmoob_muas's picture
hmoob_muas says:

thw skull looks really cool,

posted on Thu, 04/24/2008 - 8:43am
Andy Korman's picture
Andy Korman says:

ok this makes no sense but hay whatever floats your boat i guess!!!

posted on Thu, 04/24/2008 - 8:44am
Looney_Tooney's picture
Looney_Tooney says:

Where can I get a skull like that???

U Kno Wat Im Sayin!!!

posted on Thu, 04/24/2008 - 8:48am
flinch619's picture
flinch619 says:

im goin to that movie. i dont care what you say! indie PWNS!


posted on Thu, 04/24/2008 - 8:55am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Indy does pwn. But he pwns better as a younger man.

posted on Thu, 04/24/2008 - 11:07am
Evan jeffers's picture
Evan jeffers says:

thia ia very cool info

posted on Thu, 04/24/2008 - 1:21pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I need to think about this for a while. I mean...entertainment using unsquashable popular memes that aren't really true? I just don't know what to say. Its as if my reality is crumbling around me..... I guess I will go to the movie anyway, and then go to the skeptics temple and do 30 differential equations as penitence.

posted on Mon, 05/05/2008 - 11:18am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Sassy! Memes? With three-dot and four-dot ellipses in the same paragraph? Someone's been to college!

posted on Mon, 05/05/2008 - 1:08pm
a REAL archaeologist's picture
a REAL archaeologist says:

This article made me feel better after seeing the new Indiana Jones. Bad archaeology is fun, but aliens is just painfully bad.

posted on Sun, 05/25/2008 - 11:05pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

it is a very cheesey movie but the guy has point

posted on Wed, 03/31/2010 - 2:41pm
Bubbles the Bubbly Person's picture
Bubbles the Bubbly Person says:

Hi have you heard about the metor that hit China today. It was huge! :P

posted on Thu, 04/01/2010 - 8:49am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Yes, the April Fools Day meteorite impact will surely go down in history as one of China's greatest natural disasters.

posted on Thu, 04/01/2010 - 9:41am

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