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Rock crystal skull

British Museum

British Museum

Large quartz crystal skulls have generated great interest and fascination since they began to surface in public and private collections during the second half of the nineteenth century. Some of them have been attributed to the work of ancient Aztec, Mixtec or even Maya stone workers in Mexico. Others are said to be examples of colonial Mexican art for use in churches, perhaps as bases for crucifixes.

Scientists at the British Museum studied traces of tool marks preserved in the highly polished surfaces of this crystal skull. These show that it was extensively worked using rotary cutting wheels, unknown in Mexico before the arrival of the Spanish in 1519. Furthermore, analysis of inclusions in the quartz crystal indicates that the large block of material was obtained in the nineteenth century from a source far beyond ancient Mexican trade links, probably Brazil or Madagascar.

Although the crystal skull was said to have come from ancient Mexico, in fact it was acquired shortly before 1881 by the French antiquities dealer, Eugène BobanFive years later, having failed to sell the carving in Paris or Mexico City, Boban sold the skull to the New York jewellers Tiffany and Co, from whom it was acquired by the British Museum more than a decade later.

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Details

  • Title: Rock crystal skull
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 25.00cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Registration number: Am1898,-.1
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Mexico
  • Other information: Cultural rights may apply.
  • Material: rock crystal
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Tiffany & Co. Collected by Boban, Eugene. Collected by Sissin, G

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