UCL logo

UCL Discovery

UCL home » Library Services » Electronic resources » UCL Discovery

The origins of two purportedly pre-Columbian Mexican crystal skulls

Sax, M; Walsh, JM; Freestone, IC; Rankin, AH; Meeks, ND; (2008) The origins of two purportedly pre-Columbian Mexican crystal skulls. J ARCHAEOL SCI , 35 (10) 2751 - 2760. 10.1016/j.jas.2008.05.007.

Full text not available from this repository.

Abstract

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, Eugene Boban. These findings led 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 USA. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Type: Article
Title: The origins of two purportedly pre-Columbian Mexican crystal skulls
DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2008.05.007
Keywords: optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, Raman spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction, lapidary technology, tool mark, provenance, fluid inclusion, solid inclusion, quartz, crystal skull, Mexico, pre-Columbian period, authenticity
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology > Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1329055
Downloads since deposit
0Downloads
Download activity - last month
Download activity - last 12 months
Downloads by country - last 12 months

Archive Staff Only

View Item View Item