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The Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull of Doom

July 2012

By all accounts, F. A. Mitchell-Hedges (1882-1959), was a colorful character: stockbroker, entrepreneur, angler, amateur archaeologist, expert poker player, mercenary for Pancho Villa, Leon Trotsky's roommate, adventurer, story teller (radio show host and writer), possibly, a spy for the English Crown – and is associated with the discovery of a skull carved from pure quartz crystal.

It was claimed by Mitchell-Hedges that the almost life-size Crystal Skull, known as the "Skull of Doom" was "…at least 3,600 years old and according to legend was used by the High Priest of the Maya when performing esoteric rites. It is said that when he willed death with the help of the skull, death invariably followed. It has been described as the embodiment of all evil. I do not wish to try and explain this phenomena."

The Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull
The Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull, photo via Philip Coppens

In the late 1940s F. A., and his adopted daughter Anna, made a trip to South Africa with the Skull. A 1962 article by John Sinclair for Fate revealed some anecdotes reinforcing the "Skull of Doom" reputation. Supposedly, a Zulu witch doctor, at the request of the skeptical tribal chief, spat on the Skull and performed a mockery dance at it and was subsequently killed in his hut by a bolt of lightning issuing from a clear blue sky. Another story involved a news photographer who belittled the skull as he photographed it, yelling "Will me to death! Rot!" and upon leaving the Mitchell-Hedges' home, drove straight into a truck, killing himself (or his darkroom blew up, killing him as he was developing the pictures, per Strange Magazine – take your pick). Other deaths involving heart attacks (Mitchell-Hedges included) also revolve around the Skull.

In his autobiography, Danger My Ally (1954), he wrote "How it came into my possession I have reason for not revealing". So the origin tale of the Skull comes to us from Anna.

Anna claimed that she, her father and others were in British Honduras (Belize) working on an archaeological dig at the Mayan ruins of Lubaantun in the 1920s. She says that they "were digging in the temple, moving a heavy wall which had fallen on the altar.... I came upon the skull buried beneath the altar, but it was some three months later before the jaw was found which was about 25 feet away." She also later claimed that when she pulled the skull from the ground, the Indians at the dig reacted with awe and reverence, since "they recognized the Skull at once as the long-lost god of their ancestors" (via Strange Magazine). The find was on the occasion of Anna's 17th birthday - and it has been suggested by those of a skeptical frame of mind that it was planted by her father to enliven her birthday.

Besides the tale of ancient Mayan origins, the skull has inspired other origin stories such as having been an acquisition by the Knights Templar during the Crusades, 20th century Mexico or 19th century Germany origins, and some even claim Atlantean origins (!).

All of the wild claims and conflicting reports (not to mention the Skull's beauty), have helped to catapult this Crystal Skull to fame reserved for few (few crystal skulls, anyway). The Skull gets a mention by name in Indiana Jones and the Secret of the Sphinx and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls draws from this story not to mention the uncanny resemblance of Indiana to F. A. Mitchell-Hedges. The skull surely served as an inspiration for Dan Aykroyd and Crystal Head Vodka – here is a video of Dan selling his vodka (be warned, this video is over the top without any sense of humor or irony – odd for a comedian. After watching the video I felt as though I had been doused with ectoplasm from a bucket-wielding used car salesman; but I digress…). The Stargate Crystal Skull episode pulls material from this story as well as the SciFi Channel's Mystery of the Crystal Skulls which is available online here.

Nothing like a story's vagueness to generate more stories - and this story is indeed a good jumping off point for many more variations. Here are a few that stick (fairly) close to the facts:

The pumped up, pimped out version of F. A. Mitchell-Hedges life:
www.badassoftheweek.com/hedges.html
The truth and only the truth version:
www.howgego.co.uk/explorers/frederick_albert_mitchell-hedges.htm
The spy story version (nicely done, just needs a movie made of it):
www.philipcoppens.com/mitchellhedges_origin.html
The science of the Crystal Skull:
www.archaeology.org/online/features/mitchell_hedges/
And some good reporting at Strange Magazine:
www.strangemag.com/crystalskull/crystalskull.html
www.strangemag.com/crystalskull/crystalcredibility.html
www.strangemag.com/crystalskull/crystaldorland.html
This list would not be complete without a link to the Crystal Skull's website, maintained by its current caretaker, Bill Homann:
www.mitchell-hedges.com/en/home.html

I think that the title "Skull of Doom" turned out to be something of misnomer, at least in Anna's case, as she lived to be 100 years old (she attributed her longevity to the Skull – died in 2007). We will have to wait awhile to see if it proves to be an effective aid for Bill Homann. In the meantime, check out the links above and let your imagination go to town, I wouldn't let too much reality get in the way of a good story.

See the Anna Mitchell-Hedges/Crystal Skull segment of Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World: Ancient Wisdom.
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