Here at WASD we love the weird side of the Bay. One of these odd stories concerns an ancient South American chrystal skull with the power to predict the future and to kill its owner’s enemies. For decades these artefacts were presented as evidence of the supernatural – the idea being that a ‘primitive tribe’ couldn’t have created something so exquisite so they must have been made by gods or aliens. So well-known were they that they appeared as a plot device in the fourth part of one of the most loved movie franchises.
After the first three Indiana Jones movies there was a bit of an expectation that 2008’s ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ was going to be something special. However, for many fans it was a bit of a disappointment. For those who haven’t had the dubious pleasure of seeing Indie surviving a nuclear explosion by hiding in a fridge, the plot was based on a myth that ancient South American crystal skulls held supernatural powers. Our heroic archaeologist becomes entangled in a Soviet plot to seize one of these mysterious artefacts.
The movie was based on the mythology around a number of crystal skulls that appeared in the mid-19th century when there was a real interest in ancient cultures. It was claimed that the skulls held mystical powers and a mythology has grown around them ever since.
The most famous proponent of the magical qualities of crystal skulls was FA Mitchell-Hedges, who was one of many to have been put forward as the “real-life” inspiration for Indiana Jones – the other contender was Torquay-born adventurer Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890).
Frederick Albert Mitchell-Hedges (1882-1959) was an English adventurer, traveller, and writer. He spent years moving between Central America, the Caribbean, the United States and the UK. Some sources say he was a mercenary, others thought he was a British government spy or just independently wealthy and travelling as a pastime. For a time he was sponsored by the Daily Mail and the British Museum to which he donated numerous artefacts. In the 1930s Mitchell-Hedges had a weekly radio show in New York where, talking over a background of jungle drums, he would tell dramatic tales of his adventures. He repeatedly made claims of having “discovered” Indian tribes and “lost cities”. Yet, these great finds had usually already been documented.
He became most well known, however, for his supposed discovery of the ‘Mitchell-Hedges Chrystal Skull’. Indeed, in the movie Mitchell-Hedges’ Skull is specifically mentioned. Here’s the story of how the Skull ended up in Torquay.
It was in the 1920s that Mitchell-Hedges claimed to have discovered the Skull of Doom in a Mayan ruin. However, he made no mention of the Skull until the late 1940s, not long after another – probably the same – crystal skull was auctioned at Sotheby’s. This particular Skull was made from a block of clear quartz about the size of a small human cranium and it was claimed to be “at least 3,600 years old and according to legend it was used by the High Priest of the Maya when he was performing esoteric rites. It is said that when he willed death with the help of the skull, death invariably followed”.
Then another origin-story turned up. In 1906 Frederick had adopted a Canadian orphan, Anna, who presented a different story. She said she had found the Skull under a fallen altar or inside a pyramid at a Mayan site in Belize. In 1958 Frederick and Anna moved into Shaldon House, in Shaldon where, in 1959, Frederick died. He was cremated at Torquay, his ashes were scattered at sea off Teignmouth by his devoted daughter.
The Skull remained in the possession of Anna (pictured above and below) until her death in 2007 at the age of 100. She gave interviews about the artefact until the end, continuing to make claims for its mysterious powers and origin. She alleged that the Skull could cause visions, cure cancer, that she once used its magical properties to kill a man, and that she saw in it a premonition of the assassination of JFK.
She toured with the Skull from 1967 exhibiting it on a pay-per-view basis. For example, invited ticket holders could see the skull at Torquay’s Imperial Hotel for a charge of £20. For a time the artefact was kept in a house on the Newton Road.
In her last eight years, Anna lived in Indiana in the US with Bill Homann, whom she married in 2002. Since her death the Skull has been in the custody of Bill who maintains his belief in its mystical properties. The now “17,000 year old” skull continues to be publicly exhibited. It’s now been re-named as the Skull of Love.
So, is the Skull of Doom or any of the other extant skulls occult, or even alien, artefacts of unimaginable power?
Probably not. Sadly, none of the skulls made available for scientific study have been authenticated as pre-Columbian in origin, and none come from documented excavations. Microscopic evidence indicates that the skulls are not Maya artefacts but were carved with high-speed, modern, diamond-coated tools. They were all most likely manufactured in the mid-19th century or later, almost certainly in Europe during that great fascination with ancient cultures.
On the other hand, the ‘Mitchell-Hedges Chrystal Skull’ is one of those that has never been scientifically examined…