A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
The Mitchell-Hedges “Skull of Doom” (James Di Loreto/Courtesy Smithsonian Institution)
The Mitchell-Hedges (formerly Burney) quartz skull is modern, like
every rock crystal skull that has been examined so far (Sax 2008, 2009; Walsh 1997, 2008). I believe this one can rightly be called a fake, since it is almost surely an improved version of the British Museum skull, making it a copy of an invented artifact. As such, it was intended to deceive. Documentary evidence indicates that it first appeared in London early in 1933. According to its owner, Sydney Burney, it came from Mexico, the same provenience as that supplied for the British Museum one.
The British Museum crystal skull first appeared in 1881 in Eugène Boban’s Paris shop (Boban 1881; Walsh 1997). He later exhibited it and attempted to sell it in Mexico City in 1885 as an Aztec skull. The skull was denounced by a Mexican museum curator as a fake, which caused Boban to move his business to New York City, where he successfully sold it at auction to Tiffany & Co. (Boban 1886; New York Times, December 19, 1886; Walsh 1997). The British Museum purchased it in 1898, and exhibited it from that point on.
Judging from the date the Mitchell-Hedges skull first appeared, along with the evidence provided by the SEM study, it is reasonable to suspect that it was carved in Europe, copied from the British Museum skull sometime between 1900 and the early 1930s, with the most probable date being closer to the latter. We do not know who created it or who sold it to Burney. Boban had been dead for more than two decades by 1933, so he cannot be implicated with it. Sydney Burney finally sold the skull at a Sotheby’s London auction to Mitchell-Hedges on October 15, 1943.
Eugène Boban (Courtesy Jane Walsh/Museo Nacional de Historia, Mexico City)
Anna’s stories of finding the crystal skull under an altar at Lubaantún, or inside a deep hole or cave beneath or inside of the pyramid, were her own inventions, starting in 1964, as part of a joint promotion of the skull in which she engaged the assistance of Frank Dorland. Her confusion of dates is not the product of a faulty memory, but rather, I believe, because Anna was never at Lubaantún before she was taken there for a film in the 1990s. I believe Anna settled on the 1924 date sometime in the 1980s, since in the 1970s she was still claiming to have found it in 1926 or 1927, occasionally 1928. The earlier date would have been a more likely one since her father actually visited the site that year.
The mythology that has grown up surrounding the Mitchell-Hedges Godshead Skull, Skull of Doom, Skull of Knowledge, or the Skull of Love (as it is now called on the Official Mitchell-Hedges Website) is the invention of three people--Frederick Mitchell-Hedges, followed by Anna Mitchell-Hedges and Frank Dorland. But the mythology now includes many more promoters, all of whom profit from the gullibility and enthusiasm of crystal devotees and New Age practitioners.
Frederick A. Mitchell-Hedges spent a good deal of his life as a deep-sea fisherman. He wrote at least two books and numerous articles about fishing. Stories about fish that got away are legendary, but Mitchell-Hedges took even fish stories to a new level. He usually referred to this hobby as “deep sea research,” and apparently supplemented his income by selling tales of giant fish, sea monsters, and man-eating sharks to the Hearst newspaper chain. He made weekend trips to Carribean islands, where he claimed to have found sunken continents and lost tribes or explored territories unseen by white men, while he battled with fish the size of whales and experienced constant life-threatening terrors. The dramatic stories of danger and discovery are a regular feature of his writings, and the same is true in the published accounts by his companion, Lady Richmond-Brown, and his secretary, Jane Harvey Houlson.
It is not surprising that his adopted daughter would carry on this tradition. Now, after Anna Mitchell-Hedges’s long life has passed, her widower, Bill Homan, has taken it upon himself to carry on the family business.
F.A. Mitchell-Hedges’s 1931 book, Land of Wonder and Fear, was favorably reviewed in the New York Times, which might give us some idea about the state of geographical and cultural knowledge of many North Americans at the time. There were more cosmopolitan readers, however, with one in particular writing to protest the review. Henry Wells Durham, a resident of Guatemala City provided an informed and spirited description of Mitchell-Hedges and the area he claimed no white man had ever penetrated. I quote it here in its entirety.
Now that exploring has become a “racket” for the exploitation of complacent founders of foundations, and the writing about it a source of income for the facile scribbler in pseudo-science who supplies an alternative to the readers gorged with best sellers, the encountering of one more of the wonder tales occasions no surprise; but it is a matter of astonishment to find a publication of the standing of the TIMES Book Review taken in by the recent published book of F.A. Mitchell-Hedges.
Of course, at present, the Maya field is being worked industriously by every writer who takes the tourist route through Central America. No doubt Mitchell-Hedges and his traveling companion visited some of the ruins, known to Dr. Gann, but your reviewer’s extracts referring to the vast unbroken jungle stretches through the less known parts of Guatemala, San Salvador (actually the capital city of the republic of El Salvador), Spanish Honduras and Nicaragua to Panama would give a moment’s passing amusement to the coffee and sugar planters, the cattle owners, the politicians, soldiers and adventurers of all races, who, in addition to the native Indian, have passed their lives in this region since the time of the Conquistadores, and particularly to the present inhabitants who saw the [Mitchell-Hedges] expedition traversing so much of the jungle by motor, chair-car and steamship. If Quirigua and Totonicapan are jungles, so is Bronx Park. The former is passed by railroad from here to Puerto Barrios, and the latter can be reached by motor car in a few hours. Santiago Volcano is a small crater near Managua, and the journey to the top takes two or three hours by motor, followed by an hour or two on horseback.
Finally, the Nicaragua revolution to which reference is made, was viewed by the Mitchell-Hedges party from a distance of several hundred miles, in the capital city of Managua, where they were lodged at the principal hotel, and were entertained at a tea dance by the President. The most revolutionary activity they saw was the sewering and paving of the city, then being initiated under the writer’s direction.