Later this month Harrison Ford returns to the big screen as everyone’s favourite archaeologist in the long awaited Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Plot details are being kept under wraps but it’s probably safe to assume that Indy’s going to spend some of his time finding the titular skull.
If you fancy seeing such a remarkable artifact without taking the risks Indy seems to love you’re in luck – a real crystal skull can be found at London’s British Museum.
The museum’s skull has as fascinating a back story as anything Hollywood could dream up. It was originally claimed that the skull was brought from Mexico by a Spanish officer before the French occupation of 1863.
At some stage it was sold to an English collector before being acquired on his death by French antiquities dealer Eugene Boban. It later become the property of Tiffany and Co. who sold it in 1897 to the British Museum.
It’s since been established that the skull isn’t a genuine pre-Columbian artefact and was most likely produced in the 19th century in Europe but whatever it’s origins the skull is an undisputed work of beauty.
Since 1950 it’s been the subject of several and examinations, the last of which – an on-going collaborative project focusing on the British Museums skull and a skull in the collection of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC – started in 1996.
Researchers have examined how the skulls were carved and where the quartz used originated from, observations made under a binocular microscope and in a scanning electron microscope suggest that the techniques of carving used to produce the skulls post-dated the Aztec period.
Tool marks on the skulls don’t match those on other Aztec period rock-crystal objects which were invariably carved by hand. It’s most likely that the British Museum skull was worked with a rotary or jeweller’s wheel) – a device unknown in the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans.
Research also suggests that the rock crystal used in the manufacture of the British Museum’s skull may have come from Brazil, an area outside of the ancient trade network of Mexico.
Staff at the museum are hoping the upcoming Indiana Jones sequel will spark a wave of interest in the skull. A spokesperson says “as entertainment the movie will surely appeal to the public, but it is very much a work of fiction. We hope, however, that it will encourage visitors to see the skull at the British Museum and to learn more about Aztec culture. “
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is released to cinemas across London and the UK on 22 May 2008.
The British Museum’s skull is on permanent display in the Wellcome Trust Gallery (room 24).