I'm back from vacation, speckled with mosquito bites and sporting a few nasty (yet non-life threatening) wounds. Where was I? Swimming through dark rainforest caves with a waterproof flashlight strapped to my forehead. Getting up close and personal with barracudas and sharks. Skimming across crocodile-infested waters in boats old enough to have ferried my great-grandparents across the Volga. Pretty much your average holiday, I suppose.
Ordinarily, I wouldn't bore you with the details. However, as I was hiking through the ancient Mayan city of Lubaantun, (which is now inhabited by hundreds of large iguanas), I was reminded of a mystery that's long piqued my curiousity. Hopefully, you'll find it just as intriguing. (Below: The still unexcavated remains of Lubaantun.)
In the 1920s, sixteen-year-old Anna Mitchell-Hedges accompanied her father, a well-known English adventurer and writer, on an expedition to the country then known as British Honduras. (It's now named Belize.) Back in those days, pretty much anyone could grab a shovel and call himself an archaeologist, and F.A. Mitchell-Hedges (author of books such as Battles With Giant Fish; Danger, My Ally; and Land of Wonder and Fear) was no exception. He set about raiding temples that had long belonged to the jungle—probably destroying far more than he uncovered.
Mitchell-Hedges never found a royal tomb or a cache of priceless artifacts. In fact, the only remarkable discovery made at Lubantuun was made by his daughter. On her seventeenth birthday, (or so the story goes), Anna was watching workers open a temple when she spotted something sparkling in the sun. She scrambled down to investigate and pulled a life-sized crystal skull from the rubble. (Below, two views of the Lubantuun skull.)
Known today as the Skull of Doom, Anna's discovery has been a source of controversy for decades. Perfectly detailed and cut from extremely hard quartz crystal, the skull appears to have been crafted using technology unavailable to the ancient Maya. Yet even with modern tools, the skull would have required a remarkable amount of time and skill to produce. In other words, even if it isn’t ancient, the Skull of Doom is no ordinary fake.
However, the Skull of Doom isn’t the only crystal skull that’s said to have been pulled from the ruins of an ancient Mayan city. London’s Museum of Mankind and the Trocadero Museum in Paris display similar skulls, both reputedly uncovered in Mexico. Some sources even claim that as many as thirteen have been found in the last two centuries. (Others put the number closer to five.)
There are many who say that the beautifully made-skulls are of alien or Atlantean origin and boast supernatural powers. There are others who insist that the skulls can all be traced back to an enigmatic French art dealer named Eugène Boban. But whether the skulls are thousands of years old—or only slighly older than the Eiffel Tower—one thing's for certain. The Maya who still live in the jungle that surrounds Lubantuun want their skull back. For now, it's still decorating the living room of Anna Mitchell-Hedges, who died in April at the age of 100.
(PS: Happy birthday, Theatre.)