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Two other examples were exhibited in 1867 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris as part of the collection of Eugène Boban, perhaps the most mysterious figure in the history of the crystal skulls. A Frenchman who served as the official "archaeologist" of the Mexican court of Maximilian, Boban was also a member of the French Scientific Commission in Mexico, whose work the Paris Exposition was designed to highlight. (The exhibition was not entirely successful in showcasing Louis Napoleon's second empire, since its opening coincided with the execution of Maximilian by the forces of Mexican president Benito Juárez.)
A second-generation skull--life-size and without a vertical hole--first appeared in 1881 in the Paris shop of none other than Boban. This skull is just under 6 inches high. The description in the catalogue he published provided no findspot for the object and it is listed separately from his Mexican antiquities. Boban called it a "masterpiece" of lapidary technology, and noted that it was "unique in the world."
A third generation of skulls appeared some time before 1934, when Sidney Burney, a London art dealer, purchased a crystal skull of proportions almost identical to the specimen the British Museum bought from Tiffany's. There is no information about where he got it, but it is very nearly a replica of the British Museum skull--almost exactly the same shape, but with more detailed modeling of the eyes and the teeth. It also has a separate mandible, which puts it in a class by itself. In 1943, it was sold at Sotheby's in London to Frederick Arthur (Mike) Mitchell-Hedges, a well-to-do English deep-sea fisherman, explorer, and yarn-spinner extraordinaire.
Although nearly all of the crystal skulls have at times been identified as Aztec, Toltec, Mixtec, or occasionally Maya, they do not reflect the artistic or stylistic characteristics of any of these cultures. The Aztec and Toltec versions of death heads were nearly always carved in basalt, occasionally were covered with stucco, and were probably all painted. They were usually either attached to walls or altars, or depicted in bas reliefs of deities as ornaments worn on belts. They are comparatively crudely carved, but are more naturalistic than the crystal skulls, particularly in the depiction of the teeth. The Mixtec occasionally fabricated skulls in gold, but these representations are more precisely described as skull-like faces with intact eyes, noses, and ears. The Maya also carved skulls, but in relief on limestone. Often these skulls, depicted in profile, represent days of their calendars. French and other European buyers imagined they were buying skillful pre-Columbian carvings, partially convinced perhaps by their own fascinated horror with Aztec human sacrifice. But the Aztecs didn't hang crystal skulls around their necks. Instead, they displayed the skulls of sacrificial victims on racks, impaling them horizontally through the sides (the parietal-temporal region), not vertically.
One small crystal skull was purchased in 1874...... It had been on display in an exhibit of archaeological fakes after William Foshag, a Smithsonian mineralogist, realized in the 1950s that it had been carved with a modern lapidary wheel.
These small objects represent the "first generation" of crystal skulls, and they are all drilled through from top to bottom. The drill holes may in fact be pre-Columbian in origin, and the skulls may have been simple Mesoamerican quartz crystal beads, later re-carved for the European market as little mementos mori, or objects meant to remind their owners of the eventuality of death.
Impressed by their technical excellence and gleaming polish, generations of museum curators and private collectors have been taken in by these objects. But they are too good to be true. If we consider that pre-Columbian lapidaries used stone, bone, wooden, and possibly copper tools with abrasive sand to carve stone, crystal skulls are much too perfectly carved and highly polished to be believed. Ultimately, the truth behind the skulls may have gone to the grave with Boban, a masterful dealer of many thousands of pre-Columbian artifacts--including at least five different crystal skulls--now safely ensconced in museums worldwide. He managed to confound a great many people for a very long time and has left an intriguing legacy, one that continues to puzzle us a century after his death. Boban confidently sold museums and private collectors some of the most intriguing fakes known, and perhaps many more yet to be recognized. It sounds like a great premise for a movie.