May 10,  2008 Marc Zender, Ph.D.: "Frederick Mitchell-Hedges and the Skull of Doom of Lubaantun"

            The impending return of everyone's favorite celluloid archaeologist -- this time apparently hot on the trail of an alien crystal skull – provided a welcome opportunity to revisit what is known about several strange objects in the collections of some of the most well-known museums of the modern world.  The most famous of these objects is claimed by some to have been discovered in the 1920s at Lubaantun, Belize. According to Frederick Mitchell-Hedges, it was supposedly at least 3,600 years old and according to legend was used by the High Priest of the Maya when performing esoteric rites.  It is said that when he willed death with the help of the skull, death invariably followed.  Yet despite these and other claims concerning the antiquity of the skulls and their supposed connections with ancient civilizations, evidence of their manufacture in mid-nineteenth century Germany and subsequent sale to various museums and private collectors is conclusive, spanning both material and documentary evidence.  The crystal skulls thus emerge as one of a growing number of early archaeological hoaxes whose legacy sadly remains with the field today.

            Marc Zender received his Ph.D. in Archaeology from the University of Calgary in 2004, and is currently a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, and a Research Associate of the Peabody Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology. He also assists Joel Skidmore in maintaining Mesoweb, a website specializing in Mesoamerican cultures and history. Marc is project epigrapher for the Proyecto Arquelogico de Comalcalco, directed Ricardo Arnijo Torres.  His most recent publications include: Universals and the Logic of the Material Implication: Case Study from Maya Hieroglyphic Writing; Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing 62, 2007,  co-written with John Robertson, Stephen Houston and David Stuart and Fit to be Tied: Funerary Practices among the Prehispanic Maya. In J. Guernsey and F. Kent Reilly, eds., Sacred Bundles: Ritual Acts of Wrapping and Binding in Mesoamerica, 2007, co-written with Kathryn Reese-Taylor and Debra L. Walker.

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