Welcome to Designing from Bones, where we use archaeology, mythology and the artifacts of human history to find and design stories.
Come, friends, the misty portal awaits to transport us into the heart of a mystery, clouded in deceit and wrapped in unexplained mystery.
The Crystal Skulls
Stepping into the gloom of the Mayan tomb you sweep the webs from your path. Each step taken with care for loose stones that might unleash an ancient dart or blade. You come to a circular room, an altar plinth set on the far side, glints of reflected light shine back through grime and debris from an object resting on it. You approach the altar and sweat drips into your eyes even though the air is cool. Reaching out you trace a tentative finger through the grit. A hardened glassy surface is set free. A few moments of cleaning and you find yourself staring into ancient eye sockets, breath held, timeless. You’ve just discovered one of the rarest treasures on Earth. A crystal skull.
Since the late 1800’s more than a dozen such skulls have come to light. Some purportedly discovered in ancient Mayan ruins, others carried by holy men or mysteriously appearing in the collections of auction houses and museum warehouses. The most recent was sent to the Smithsonian Institute in 1992 by an anonymous donor – now a proven hoax.
A few of the skulls are human-sized bearing immaculate detail and detachable mandibles. In contrast to these masterpieces, the majority are stylistic representations, of grotesque design or seemingly unfinished product.
Study of the skulls, undertaken by various organizations including Hewlett-Packard and applying state-of-the-art equipment show that many of the skulls used modern processes and machinery. However, a few show signs of manufacture by human hands. What all of the skulls have in common is a method of cutting against the grain of the crystal; a method that should cause the delicate material to fracture, but in the case of the skulls did not.
Aliens or Ancients?
The New Age movement quickly adopted the crystal skulls in the modern age, holding them up as icons of extraterrestrial origin given to humanity for healing and spiritual enlightenment. In some cases, proponents of the alien theory claim that the skulls are alien computers holding untold secrets important to the future of humanity.
As we have seen before, it is easy to make claims without proof by appealing to the wishful thinking of others. The most famous of the crystal skulls, Mitchell-Hedges, illustrates this point.
Reportedly discovered in 1924 by the seventeen year old daughter of British explorer F.A. Mitchell-Hedges at the Mayan ruins of Lubaantun (Belize), this skull was undocumented (not mentioned in any form) until 1943 when it was purchased by Mitchell-Hedges from Sotheby’s after a bidding battle with the British Museum. This fact is supported by the museums documentation of the event.
However, shortly after purchase, the explorer reversed history and claimed the skull originated from the Lubaantun dig. His daughter and the supposed discoverer, Anne, remained in possession of the skull until her death in 2007, bringing it out for regular paid tours.
Testing of the Mitchell-Hedges skull in 1970 by Hewlett-Packard found that no metal instruments or modern machinery were used in its creation. The skull is carved against its natural axis, which should have caused it to shatter during creation, however, it is the most human-like of all the known crystal skulls and devoid of fracture.
Frank Dorland who carried out the research for H-P believed that the crystal was first carved using diamonds and then soaked in a silicon sand and water solution – a process that would have required 300 years to complete. Dorland’s final statement on the skull: “The damn thing simply shouldn’t be”.
Regardless of whether the skulls are of alien origin or the product of masterful sculptors they present an enigma that remains beyond modern explanation.
Through the Skull’s Eyes
What lessons can we, as writers, learn from the skulls? How can we see through their faceted eyes?
On the obvious side, they make a superb centerpiece for fiction as shown in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In this case the skull provided paranormal powers to whomever returned it to an ancient city and as such acted as a primary plot device.
While the skulls could be given all the powers that the New Age movement would have us believe, reversing these same factors multiplies their usage. What can heal can also kill. What brings enlightenment can also bring damnation.
If one of the skulls was an alien computer it is just as possible that it could be programmed to seek our destruction or manipulate humanity to passivity as to provide us with useful information. Why would a superior intergalactic power want to make humans their equals? Would we do the same if the situation were reversed? Tons of story potential in just these few questions.
While, for reasons of length, I’ve avoided full detail on the host of skulls, they are easy to find on the net if you’re so inclined. Each has its own history and story or you could just manufacture your own, with a bit of diamond sharp thought followed by a soak in imaginative solution.
I now return you through the misty portal to your own time and place. Who do you think made the crystal skulls? Where they designed with a purpose in mind? Supernatural, extraterrestrial, or hoax? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Be sure to check out my previous Designing from Bones posts for more great history and tips.