1926. A swashbuckling explorer is excavating what he believes are the ruins of Atlantis in the South American rainforest of Belize. With him is his 17-year-old daughter, who on the day of her birthday happens to catch a glint of light at the foot of an ancient alter. On closer inspection, it's a piece of quartz crystal. But when she digs into the soil to remove it, what emerges is one of the most spectacular artifacts ever found in Central America: A nearly human-sized crystal skull with a detachable mandible. It will come to be known as the Skull of Doom, said to conjure visions, and to have the power of life and death.
At least, that's how explorer Frederick Mitchell-Hedges' adopted daughter, Anna, told the story. Until the day she died at age 100 in April 2007, Anna insisted that the Skull of Doom was an authentic artifact. Now most commonly known as the Mitchell-Hedges skull, it has inspired a devoted following of believers in its mystical powers.
And the Skull of Doom is not alone. In the wake of its fame, more crystal skulls began to emerge. Some nearly identical, others with peculiar variations. A skull in Texas "told" its owner that its name was Max. Another's cone-shaped cranium earned it the name ET. And soon there were whispers of an ancient Mayan legend that told of 13 crystal skulls bearing secret knowledge for humankind. In a time of great peril they would come together and reveal information that could prevent doomsday.
1992. In her office at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, anthropologist Jane MacLaren Walsh gets a call from a colleague. A parcel with no return address has been delivered to the Smithsonian. Inside is an enormous crystal skull, larger than any ever seen. A Smithsonian employee warns Walsh, "Don't look it in the eye. They're cursed." Walsh is intrigued--less by the supposed curse than the mystery of where this artifact came from and who made it. She knows that two other estimable institutions, the British Museum and the Musee de l'Homme in Paris, also possess crystal skulls in their collections. With her colleague Margaret Sax at the British Museum, Walsh embarks on a 16-year investigation that will take her from ancient Mesoamerica to archives across Europe and the Americas.
Crystal skulls are perfectly designed to confound inquiries into their past. They're made of quartz crystal, which contains no carbon, the essential element in carbon-dating. With no ironclad way of confirming when exactly they were made, much less where, Jane and her colleagues faced a formidable challenge in pitting science versus the supernatural.
The Legend of the Crystal Skulls unveils for the first time the results of Walsh's investigation. But it also captures the fascinating popular phenomenon that crystal skulls have become. In another exclusive, psychic Carole Davis attempts to "channel" the Skull of Doom, a feat she claimed to accomplish in 1982. Could the skull itself reveal its secrets? Or is this one more illusion in a mystery that has tantalized believers and non-believers for decades?