Do you believe?
A potpourri of analytical techniques reveals purported Aztec sculptures are not bona fide
Humans seem to have a predilection for fake quartz-crystal Aztec skulls. Since the 1860s, dozens of skull sculptures have appeared on the art market purporting to be pre-Columbian artifacts from Mesoamerica, that is, created by the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America prior to Spanish exploration and conquest in the 16th century. Three such skulls have graced the collections of major museums on both sides of the Atlantic: the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the British Museum in London, and the Quai Branly Museum in Paris.
As early as the 1930s, some experts began to have doubts about the authenticity of the skulls, says Margaret Sax, a conservation scientist at the British Museum. But for a long time researchers “didn’t have the scientific means to follow up” on their hunches, she adds. Over the past two decades researchers at all three museums have capitalized on analytical science innovations to show that these peculiar skulls are not unusual Aztec artifacts but post-Columbian fakes.
Nowadays the market for crystal skulls is limited to Indiana Jones fans, New Age devotees, and people in the goth and punk subcultures. But in the 1860s, when the skulls appeared on the market, many people in Europe sported little skeletons on rings, pendants, or other personal trinkets to remind them of their own mortality, says Jane Walsh, an archaeologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. It was a French dealer named Eugène Boban who capitalized on this fascination with the macabre, as well as Europe’s growing interest in and ignorance of Mesoamerican artifacts, to slip some of the first sham skulls into museums.
Walsh has traced fake crystal skulls at the British Museum and the Quai Branly Museum back to Boban, who sold them to art dealers who then sold them to the museums more than 100 years ago. The Smithsonian skull, however, showed up in the mail in 1992, as an anonymous donation. Its arrival motivated Walsh to contact the British Museum to discuss the skulls. That conversation catalyzed the scientific and historical research that finally proved the objects were phonies.The British and American team were particularly suspicious of the skulls because they hadn’t come from documented archaeological sites. And something was wrong with the skulls’ teeth. Although skulls do appear as motifs in Aztec art, most representations of teeth in authentic pieces reflect the dentistry—or lack thereof—of the time. The teeth in the suspect skulls seemed too linear, too perfect, Sax explains.
So the team took a closer look at the skulls’ surfaces. As a benchmark, they borrowed a legitimate Mesoamerican crystal goblet from the Museum of Oaxacan Cultures, in Mexico. Then they used scanning electron microscopy to compare these surfaces.
It turns out that the surface of the authentic goblet has irregular etch marks, a sign that the pieces were carved with hand-held tools. But the surface of the suspect skulls have regular etch marks, evidence that they were made with rotary wheels and hard abrasives, which appeared only after the Spanish conquest of Mexico, Walsh says.
Looking even closer at the British Museum’s skull, the team discovered green, wormlike inclusions in the rock. Raman spectroscopy revealed that the inclusions were an iron-rich chlorite mineral. Although this kind of trace impurity is found in rock crystal from Brazil or Madagascar, it is not found in Mexican crystal, Walsh says.
The team also noticed a small deposit of something curious in the Smithsonian’s skull. By using X-ray diffraction they discovered . . . MORE . . .
- Crystal Skulls: Legend, Vodka & Indiana Jones (illuminutti.com)
- Chemistry of the crystal skulls confirms their fake origin (doubtfulnews.com)
- Fake crystal Aztec skulls (cenblog.org)
- How science debunked the ancient Aztec crystal skull hoax (eurekalert.org)
- Crystal Skull Should Be Returned to Mexico. (astroshamanics.wordpress.com)
Note: by the time you read this, you won’t need to read this because you’ll know the world didn’t end as some people said it would on December 21, 2012. Doomsday predictions are a dime a dozen. Why anyone believes them is the real mystery.
In a nutshell: The Mayan prophecy for 2012 is something made up by people who don’t know much about the Maya. The Maya didn’t predict anything, much less the end of the world.
The idea that the Maya predicted the end of the world on 12-21-2012 is a hoax.
The Maya had several calendars and one of them starts over in 2012. Some people think this means they predicted the end of the world. Why? I don’t know. Maybe they like to scare people. The Maya didn’t predict the end of the world. But even if they did, so what? The Maya couldn’t even predict the end of their own civilization, which collapsed over one thousand years ago. Anyway, anyone can predict anything about the future. That doesn’t mean their prediction will come true.
Mayan civilization was at its peak for over 750 years in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and parts of Central America. The Maya, like all farming societies, had to study things that affect the soil and the growth of plants. They studied the pattern of the seasons and knew when to plant and when to store up food for the dry months. Their studies led them to create several calendars. We don’t really know much about these calendars. For example, we know that the Long Count Calendar—the one that ends on 12-21-2012—began about 5,000 years ago on August 11, 3114 BCE. We don’t know why the Maya started their calendar on that date and we don’t know why they ended it on 12-21-2012. We don’t even know if 12-21-2012 is the actual date the Long Count Calendar ends. All we know is that the Maya reset this calendar to day 0 every 1,872,000 days, a period known as The Great Circle. We don’t know why they thought this number was important. It’s a big number and amounts to more days than the oldest Egyptian pyramids have been around.
We know that the Maya had a large empire, but they were not able to solve some important problems. They had too many people on too little land. They destroyed their own environment by cutting down too many trees and by farming in ways that ruined their soil. Climate change brought long periods with no rain. Why should we think the Maya prophets would be any better at seeing the distant future than failed prophets of other times and other peoples?
The fact is that anybody can predict the end of the world, but nobody knows when it will happen.
MORE . . .
- BEST OF THE WEB: It’s smart to take all date-specific predictions with a spoonful of cynicism: 2012 ‘End Times’ prophecy corrected by Mayan priests (sott.net)
- Mayan Calendar: NASA Releases “Why the World Didn’t End Yesterday” Video Too Early (bostinno.com)
- NASA Releases Video Dated 12/22/12 Explaining Why We Didn’t Die (geekosystem.com)
By Charles Choi via LiveScience
Human skulls deliberately warped into strange, alien-like shapes have been unearthed in a 1,000-year-old cemetery in Mexico, researchers say.
The practice of deforming skulls of children as they grew was common in Central America, and these findings suggest the tradition spread farther north than had been thought, scientists added.
The cemetery was discovered by residents of the small Mexican village of Onavas in 1999 as they were building an irrigation canal. It is the first pre-Hispanic cemetery found in the northern Mexican state of Sonora.
The site, referred to as El Cemeterio, contained the remains of 25 human burials. Thirteen of them had deformed skulls, which were elongate and pointy at the back, and five had mutilated teeth. [See Photos of the ‘Alien’ Skulls]
Dental mutilation involves filing or grinding teeth into odd shapes, while cranial deformation involves distorting the normal growth of a child’s skull by applying force — for example, by using cloths to bind wooden boards against their heads.
“Cranial deformation has been used by different societies in the world as a ritual practice, or for distinction of status within a group or to distinguish between social groups,” said researcher Cristina García Moreno, an archaeologist at Arizona State University. “The reason why these individuals at El Cemeterio deformed their skulls is still unknown.”
“The most common comment I’ve read from people that see the pictures of cranial deformation has been that they think that those people were ‘aliens,'” García added. “I could say that some say that as a joke, but the interesting thing is that some do think so. Obviously we are talking about human beings, not of aliens.”
- Deformed skulls discovered in 1,000-year-old Mexican cemetery (io9.com)
- Deformed skulls found in ancient Mexican mass grave (doubtfulnews.com)
By Alexandra Alper via Reuters
IZAMAL, Mexico, Dec 19 (Reuters) – Thousands of mystics, New Age dreamers and fans of pre-Hispanic culture have been drawn to Mexico in hopes of witnessing great things when the day in an old Maya calendar dubbed “the end of the world” dawns on Friday.
But many of today’s ethnic Maya cannot understand the fuss. Mostly Christian, they have looked on in wonder at the influx of foreign tourists to ancient cities in southern Mexico and Central America whose heyday passed hundreds of years ago.
For students of ancient Mesoamerican time-keeping, Dec. 21, 2012 marks the end of a 5,125-year cycle in the Maya Long Calendar, an event one leading U.S. scholar said in the 1960s could be interpreted as a kind of Armageddon for the Maya.
Academics and astronomers say too much weight was given to the words and have sought to allay fears the end is nigh.
But over the past few decades, fed by popular culture, Friday became seen by some western followers of alternative religions as a day on which momentous change could occur.
“It’s a psychosis, a fad,” said psychologist Vera Rodriguez, 29, a Mexican of Maya descent living in Izamal, Yucatan state, near the center of the 2012 festivities, the site of Chichen Itza. “I think it’s bad for our society and our culture.”
MORE . . .
- Does Anyone Really Believe in the Mayan Apocalypse? (livescience.com)
- The truth about the Maya ‘apocalypse’ (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)
- 2012 Mayan Doomsday Countdown: 5 Ancient Must-Visit Ruin Sites on Dec 21 to Celebrate Mayan New Year (VIDEOS (sfluxe.com)
- So, 21.12.2012 is the end of the world? (guardian.co.uk)
- Mysticism, Internet fuel Mexico’s Maya “Armageddon” fears (theneteconomy.wordpress.com)
- Mysticism, Internet Fuel ‘Armageddon’ Fears (hawaiireporter.com)