Fake Crystal Skulls
The latest issue of Chemical & Engineering News
has an article that reviews the history of how the crystal "Aztec" skulls that began showing up in the mid-19th century were eventually found to be fake. The take home is that the following pieces of evidence led researchers to conclude the skulls were modern forgeries:
- The skulls didn't come from documented archaeological sites.
- The skulls' teeth were suspiciously linear and perfect, whereas the teeth in other Aztec art reflected the lack of Aztec dentistry.
- Microscopic analysis revealed that the crystal skulls had regular etch marks, such as would be made by modern rotary wheels and hard abrasives, not ancient hand-held tools.
- Spectroscopic analysis showed that the rock crystal had "green, wormlike inclusions" characteristic of rock crystal from Brazil or Madagascar, not Mexico.
- And finally, X-ray diffraction revealed that some of the skulls were coated in deposits of silicon carbide, "a synthetic abrasive used in stone-carving workshops only starting in the mid-20th century."
Crystal Skulls Deemed Fake
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.
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