May 21, 2008

Origin of two "pre-Columbian" Mexican crystal skulls

Excellent timing from the authors and the editor of the Journal of Archaeological Science, a perfect companion piece to the new Indiana Jones movie, albeit with a more down-to-earth message. In other movie news, a film named Olympia is in the works:
Danish helmer Asger Leth has signed on to helm "Olympia" for Columbia Pictures.

Mark Gordon ("10,000 BC") is producing the love story, which is set against the backdrop of the ancient Olympic Games in Greece as war waged between Athens and Sparta. Lawrence Inglee also produces.
One hopes that Mark Gordon doesn't bring the same level of period inaccuracy to ancient Greece as he did to the Paleolithic.

Journal of Archaeological Science

The origin of two purportedly pre-Columbian Mexican crystal skulls

Margaret Sax et al.

The well-known life-size rock crystal skull in the British Museum was purchased in 1897 as an example of genuine pre-Columbian workmanship, but its authenticity has been the subject of increasing speculation since the 1930s. This paper is concerned with the history, technology and material of the skull and another larger white quartz skull, donated recently to the Smithsonian Institution. Manufacturing techniques were investigated, using scanning electron microscopy to examine tool marks on the artefacts, and compared with Mesoamerican material from secure contexts. A Mixtec rock crystal goblet and a group of Aztec/Mixtec rock crystal beads show no evidence of lapidary wheels. They were probably worked with stone and wood tools charged with abrasives, some of which may have been as hard as corundum. Textual evidence for Mexican lapidary techniques during the early colonial period, supported by limited archaeological evidence, also indicates a technology without the wheel, probably based on natural tool materials. In contrast, the two skulls under consideration were carved with rotary wheels. The British Museum skull was worked with hard abrasives such as corundum or diamond, whereas X-ray diffraction revealed traces of carborundum (SiC), a hard modern synthetic abrasive, on the Smithsonian skull. Investigation of fluid and solid inclusions in the quartz of the British Museum skull, using microscopy and Raman spectroscopy, shows that the material formed in a mesothermal metamorphic environment equivalent to greenschist facies. This suggests that the quartz was obtained from Brazil or Madagascar, areas far outside pre-Columbian trade networks. Recent archival research revealed that the British Museum skull was rejected as a modern artefact by the Museo Nacional de Mexico in 1885, when offered for sale by the collector and dealer, Eugène Boban. These findings lead to the conclusion that the British Museum skull was worked in Europe during the nineteenth century. The Smithsonian Institution skull was probably manufactured shortly before it was bought in Mexico City in 1960; large blocks of white quartz would have been available from deposits in Mexico and the U.S.A.



Leafy Shrew said...

They look stylised.

cacio said...

There is a divulgative article about the skulls also in the magazine Archaeology