The Mystery of the Crystal Skulls

By Chris Morton & Ceri Louise Thomas

An old Native American legend describes the existence of thirteen life-size human skulls made of rock crystal, that were said to speak or sing.  According to the legend, these crystal skulls contain answers to some of the great mysteries of life and the universe.  The legend also says that one, day at a time of great need, at a time of great crisis for humanity, all of these crystal skulls will be rediscovered and brought back together again to reveal their knowledge and information vital to the very survival of the human race.

When we first heard this legend we were on holiday in Central America, and we had no idea that we were about to spend the next three years of our lives searching for the truth about these most strange, enigmatic and beautiful objects.  We were first told the legend while visiting the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala.  At the time, we thought the whole thing was merely a colourful story and that there was nothing more to it than that. Indeed, we thought little more about it until a chance encounter, whilst visiting the neighbouring country of Belize, where we found out that a real crystal skull had actually been discovered.

This crystal skull was discovered in ancient Mayan ruins which lie deep in the rainforest, in the 1920’s. The British adventurer/explorer, Frederick Mitchell-Hedges and his party were looking for evidence of the lost civilisation of Atlantis. One day, trekking through the jungle they came across some mounds of stone overgrown with moss and foliage and suffocated by roots and vines.  They stumbled upon the lost city of Lubaantun, which in Mayan means the city of the fallen stones.

During the excavation of the site, Mitchell-Hedges’ adopted daughter Anna says she discovered the crystal skull buried beneath an altar in one of the ruined temple-pyramids. The Mayan helpers on the dig are said to have gone wild with joy on the emergence of the skull. They placed it on an altar and performed ceremonies and dances around it; ‘It was as if an ancient and powerful force had returned to the lives of those present’.  The skull in question was a magnificent and perfect specimen made from almost totally transparent quartz crystal. It was the size of a real human skull and was highly anatomically accurate, coming complete with a separate lower jaw-bone.

As film-makers we were fascinated, a strange and mysterious artefact discovered in the ruins of an ancient Mayan temple sounded as if it would make an interesting documentary so we set about finding out more.

We were surprised to discover that the young woman who found the crystal skull back in the 1920’s, Anna Mitchell-Hedges, was still alive and well and still in possession of the crystal skull.  She was almost 90 years old and had kept the skull with her throughout her long life. Anna was convinced that the crystal skull had magical healing and communicative powers and that it protected her and kept her in good health all her life. Others who had spent time with the skull also had a number of strange, paranormal experiences to report – that in its presence they had heard the soft sound of human voices chanting, or had seen images of the past or the future deep within its crystalline structure.

Since Anna Mitchell-Hedges first discovered her crystal skull, a number of other crystal skulls have also come to light – just as prophesied in the ancient legend.  Our investigation led us to three large crystal skulls kept in some of the world’s leading museums and a further three belonging to private individuals.

All of the crystal skulls are of mysterious origin and all are surrounded by tales of strange telepathic or healing powers.  For the most part, the owners believe their skulls to be Central American in origin.  They are thought to have originated with one or other ancient civilisation of Central America, either the Aztecs, the Maya or a mysterious  pre-Mayan civilisation which some believe to have been the Atlanteans of legend.

Scientific Perspectives

Initially, we were keen to explore a more rational, scientific explanation for the crystal skulls and became interested in the work of leading Mesoamerican specialist, Dr Jane Walsh of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, which had recently come into possession of its own crystal skull.

Dr Walsh like many archaeologists was sceptical about the many claims that had been made about the crystal skulls, including that they were ancient.  She was developing her own theories about the origin of the crystal skulls and believed that they might in fact be modern fakes or forgeries, and not ancient artefacts at all. She put forward the idea that the crystal skulls might have been made during the 19th Century to satisfy a growing demand for ancient antiquities. But she had no proof so she could not be sure.

Dr Walsh was interested in subjecting the crystal skulls to a number of scientific tests in the hope of finding evidence of where they had come from and who exactly had made them. The tests would involve all the known crystal skulls it was possible to gather together and that were thought to be ancient.  One of the difficulties in establishing when the crystal skulls were made is that the material of crystal gives no clues as to when the skulls might have been made.

The crystal skulls cannot be carbon-dated, as crystal contains no carbon.   The only way to ascertain when the skulls might have been made would be to examine them under intense magnification and look for signs of any tool marks left behind from when the skull was made. Hand tool markings would suggest the skulls were genuinely ancient and probably native, whereas any machine-tool markings would suggest that the skulls were made using modern European technology, and so dated from some time after Columbus first landed in America.

Talking to Anna Mitchell-Hedges about the tests that Dr Walsh was planning revealed that the Mitchell-Hedges skull had already been subjected to scientific tests back in the 1970’s. Anna had loaned her crystal skull to computer manufacturers Hewlett-Packard in the hope that they might be able to tell her more about it. As leading manufacturers of computers and other electronic equipment, Hewlett-Packard are experts in the use and properties of crystal.

What the team of scientists at Hewlett-Packard found was that the crystal skull was made of exactly the same type of quartz crystal that is now found at the heart of the telecommunications industry;   piezo electric silicon dioxide –  which is renowned above all other materials for its information storage capacity.   And it is from this material that microprocessors are made – the very circuitry on which our whole modern civilisation now depends.

Although crystal cannot be carbon-dated the scientists at Hewlett-Packard were able to make one other interesting discovery.  Using a series of polarised light tests they were able to establish that the upper cranium and the separate lower jaw of the skull had at one time been part of the same solid block of rock crystal. They were astonished by this, as quartz crystal is only slightly softer than diamond, and is also very brittle, making it an incredibly difficult material to carve.

Rock crystal is so brittle, and because of its grain structure, it is likely to shatter when carved using machine tools.  In fact, Hewlett-Packard concluded that it would actually have been impossible to carve such a delicate and exquisite object particularly such as the lower jaw from a single piece of crystal , using modern diamond-tipped electrically-powered machine tools, without it shattering into pieces.  They therefore concluded that the crystal skull must have been made by hand.

But this was even more incredible, because the scientists also calculated that to slowly abrade the crystal skull by hand would have taken several human generations.  As the Hewlett-Packard report put it ‘an estimated 300 man years of effort’ would have been involved.  The scientists were baffled, so they decided to examine the skull under a microscope to look for signs of what tools had had been used to make the crystal skull. To their complete amazement they could find no sign of either modern machine- tools or ancient hand-held tools having been used to make the crystal skull.  In fact, they could find no evidence of any kind of tool markings whatsoever, leading one member of the team to comment ‘this skull shouldn’t even exist’, and leading several observers since to speculate that the crystal skulls might not be of any kind of human origin at all.

Scientific investigation did not end with the Mitchell-Hedges skull.  In 1996, The British Museum decided to co-operate with Dr Jane Walsh of the Smithsonian Institution in allowing their own crystal skull to be tested alongside all the other crystal skulls it was possible to gather together at the British Museum Research Laboratory.  But just as the Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull had challenged the attempts of scientists at Hewlett-Packard, we were soon to find the other crystal skulls challenging the analysis of scientists at the British Museum. For although scientific tests were carried out on six of the skulls by the British Museum in April 1996; for whatever reason, the museum were not prepared to go public with the results.

Tribal Perspectives

In our quest to understand the mystery of the crystal skulls, we spoke to many indigenous elders from North and Central America.  We met with spiritual leaders of the Navajo, the Pueblo, the Seneca, the Cherokee and the Maya. From these people we learned about the sacred significance of the crystal skulls.  According to these spiritual teachers the crystal skulls will never be truly understood simply through examining them under a microscope. Indeed, one of the purposes of the crystal skulls is to pose a fundamental challenge to our whole rational, scientific way of looking at the world.

Native American author Jamie Sams, for example, explained that crystal skulls are a symbol of the possibilities that exist in our own human consciousness. Crystal skulls invite us to experience other states of awareness. This may consist of seeing images within the crystal skulls or it may be a question   of experiencing a trance-like state of awareness that also happens in the presence of the skulls.  For those who have been trained as shamans, the crystal skulls provide a doorway into other dimensions. Many native people believe that the skulls form an access point into the other multiple levels of reality that exist in parallel to our own everyday waking world. They believe that part of our soul, or our consciousness, can literally travel into these other dimensions through the crystal skulls. But the crystal skulls are not just esoteric devices for initiated shamans to travel to other dimensions, they can also help each of us to access other levels of our own consciousness, which many of us today have forgotten how to use.

Certainly through our exploration of the mystery of the crystal skulls we came to see the short-comings of our culture’s predominantly rational-scientific approach to the problems we face. We became acutely aware of the narrow parameters this approach imposes and its total inability to explain the great multitude and totality of phenomena that surround us at all times. We became very conscious that the scientific approach is only one way of seeing the world. The problem is that it is a method of seeing things which has encouraged us to reduce rather than expand the ways in which we can make sense of the world around us.

We have tended to honour only scientific truths when in fact there are many other truths, many other systems of belief and different ways of understanding the world and the significance of the crystal skulls. What the indigenous people we spoke to showed us is that the crystal skulls can provide us with a world view of immeasurable richness and beauty.

We heard from Mayan Day-Keeper, Hunbatz Men, that crystal skulls had once been used in many of the sacred sites around the world. Several had been placed in the temples of the ancient Maya, and one he believed had once been kept at Stonehenge.  According to indigenous elders such as Hunbatz Men the time has now come for the sacred crystal skulls to be returned once again to the sacred sites where they were first kept so as to ‘re-awaken those sites so that the right energies can go out into the world’. Hunbatz believes that, as prophesied by the ancient Mayan calendar, with the help of the crystal skulls, ‘indigenous people will now take the lead in showing the way for the benefit of all of humanity’!

In the deserts of New Mexcio, Navajo elder Leon Secatero explained that crystal skulls can help awaken us to our connections with all other things. They show us ‘the aliveness of all things: they are magical objects; they are the image of death, yet they contain the breath of life, the same breath of life that we have and that we share with all other things’. According to Leon, ‘The crystal skulls emit a sound – the sound of creation. This is the same sound the Earth made when it came into being, the same noise that happens at conception and the noise that a leaf makes when it unfurls in the spring. In this way the crystal skulls show us that we are connected with all of life and with the great mystery and beauty of creation’.

The philosophy of the Navajo, the Maya, and other indigenous people who hold the crystal skulls as sacred objects left behind by the very first people to help us now in our time of greatest need, helps us to see the fundamental aliveness in everything around us, both living and dead.  The native elders believe that this waking up to our connection with all other things is absolutely vital for our own future survival on this planet  – and this is one of the first of the many incredible lessons that the crystal skulls are now here to teach us.

First published in Sacred Hoop Magazine Issue 21, Summer 1998

‘The Mystery of the Crystal Skulls’ by Chris Morton and Ceri Louise Thomas is published by Bear & Company/Inner Traditions in the US and Canada, and in the UK by Element/Harper Collins.