Monday, January 11, 2010

Of Crystal Skulls and Pyramids

Of Crystal Skulls and Pyramids

by Mark Rose
January 10, 2010

I just returned from the Annual Meeting of the AIA, the Archaeological Institute of America, which was held in sunny Anaheim this year. The meeting gave me an opportunity to look for new stories for our website and for the magazine (a successful endeavor) and to catch up with colleagues, such as Curt Runnels from Boston University. Curt is an authority on the Paleolithic and Mesolithic of the Balkans. It was because of his expertise that I turned to him back in 2006 when the so-called Bosnian pyramid was being picked up by various media.

“The only occupants,” of the region, he commented, “were Upper Paleolithic hunters and gatherers who left behind open-air campsites and traces of occupation in caves. These remains consist of simple stone tools, hearths, and remains of animals and plants that were consumed for food. These people did not have the tools or skills to engage in the construction of monumental architecture.” (See “The Bosnian-Atlantis Connection” for background including Runnels’ observations.)

Almost four years later, Curt says he still gets occasional emails from those who believe that the pyramid is everything that Semir Osmanagich claims it is. Osmanagich’s current interpretation, on the website of the Archaeological Park: Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun Foundation, is that a “Megalithic culture” that supposedly brought multi-ton sandstone blocks to the site more than 32,000 years ago. There were also “Tunnel builders” (they apparently used concrete) and, my favorite, the “Secret holders.” This last group is said to have wanted to hide the pyramid and tunnels. Why? Who knows. But to do it they “carefully cleaned the tunnels from the artifacts, tools, bones and sealed all of them off” some time before 3,090 years ago. Well–that explains why the evidence for these cultures is missing.

It is sometimes difficult to convince believers in such things that the truth is otherwise. Even when it seems perfectly clear. But if a specialist like Curt says the Bosnian pyramid isn’t what Osmanagich claims, I’ll listen to him. Similarly, if anthropologist Jane Walsh at the Smithsonian tells me that the famous Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull is a modern creation made with high-speed rotary tools, I’ll believe her. In fact, we’ll be posting on the website in the next week or so results of her definitive study of this unusual object. (See her May/June cover story “Legend of the Crystal Skulls” for background.)

Maybe we’ll get some emails from people who, for whatever reason, will refuse to accept what is unarguable evidence that the crystal skull is not ancient. Perhaps we’ll get emails about the Bosnian pyramid and the crystal skull. Not surprisingly, there are some folks who believe in the stories told both by Frederick A. Mitchell-Hedges, for whom the skull is named, and pyramid promoter Semir Osmanagich.

Mitchell-Hedges had a flair for mystery and drama, and made use of it in dealing with reporters. When he claimed he had been robbed in January 1927, he told one reporter “My assailants had an object in view. I understand the reason for their act, but will not tell you.” What was in the suitcase taken from him? If you believe the story he told the newspapers, it held documents relating to business in Honduras and “five or six specimens of exceedingly rare human heads shrunk by Indians of the interior of Honduras by a process of which they alone possess the secret.”

Even in old age Mitchell-Hedges was telling reporters fantastic tales. In 1955, when he was 73, he announced that the crystal skull—he called it the “Skull of Doom”— would be destroyed upon his death. This was because, he said, of a legend that anyone who looked at it for long could die within a week. According to Mitchell-Hedges, “A girl who saw it laughed at the tale. She died a week later with no apparent illness. Her last words were: ‘It’s the skull of doom.’” His final comment? “Priceless as it is, this evil thing must die with me.”

We can chuckle at the gullible reporters who took everything Mitchell-Hedges said as truth. But this kind of thing happens today. You can still read the original BBC News Bosnian pyramid story. It even has a picture of Osmanagich in his trademark hat. (Mitchell-Hedges wore jodhpurs and puttees to cultivate the explorer look.)

I have a feeling that Mitchell-Hedges and Osmanagich would have gotten along together. In fact, in his book The World of the Maya (2005; online at Osmangich gives the crystal skull an entire chapter, which he seems to have based on Richard Garvin’s 1973 book The Crystal Skull.

Osmangich follows Garvin’s story that Anna Mitchell-Hedges, the “explorer’s” adopted daughter, found the skull in 1927 at the Maya site Lubaantum in Belize (that actually contradicts Mitchell-Hedges own story of how he found it, but never mind—the truth is he bought it at Sotheby’s in London in 1943). Here are some snippets from the chapter:
Various authors…dispute [Mitchell-Hedges’] assertion that the skull was made in the time of Atlantis and then passed on to the Maya.
The spiritual teachings of the Maya speak of beings who understood higher consciousness and who possessed the mental capacities of telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation.
The artist did not use metal tools. Microscopic analysis revealed not a single scratch on the quartz….

Osmanagich follows Mitchell-Hedges’ claim that 300 years—father to son over many generations—would have been required to patiently grind the skull with sand and polish it. Then he adds a bit:
Common sense tells us there must be another answer. Either the ancient people had some more advanced techniques than those known to us today or they had some help from visitors from beyond this dimension or from “outer space”. Or a combination of the above-mentioned alternatives.

Perhaps Mitchell-Hedges would approve. But it is not the truth. It’s likely the skull is from the beginning of the 1930s. No Maya, no Atlantis, no aliens. The evidence—from examination of the skull under light and scanning electron microscopes and recently found correspondence of Mitchell-Hedges, Anna, and others—is incontrovertible. Despite this some people, perhaps including Osmanagich, will continue to believe in the skull as an ancient or even supernatural artifact. And many, I am afraid, will continue to believe in the pyramid.