The Crystal Skull Saga: Indiana Jones Prop Spurs Lawsuit Over Artifact Stolen From Belize

If your pop culture memory is dim, you may not recall that back in 2008 the fourth Indiana Jones movie had Harrison Ford returning to his aging archaeologist-adventurer character for a quest involving a crystal skull. Now a lawsuit has been filed alleging that the featured crystal skull was in fact modeled on one illegally taken out of Belize by a real life adventurer.

The lawsuit was filed last month, according to the Hollywood Reporter, by an attorney for Dr. Jaime Awe, who serves as the director of the Institute of Archeology of Belize, on behalf of the nation of Belize. It has multiple targets, including Lucasfilm (recently bought by Disney) and Paramount Pictures for their “illegal profits” from using a skull in the movie that “clearly resembles” one claimed to have been stolen out of Belize by English traveller and amateur archeologist F.A. Mitchell-Hedges in the 1930s. The Hollywood Reporter quotes the complaint: “Lucasfilm never sought, nor was given permission to utilize the Mitchell-Hedges Skull or its likeness in the Film. To date, Belize has not participated in any of the profits derived from the sale of the Film or the rights thereto.”

Despite their stories of ancient curses and origins, there is much speculation about crystal skulls being authentic. The one housed at the British Museum was revealed to have actually been made in the 19th century, rather than by ancient Mayans, and the same was found to be true of the crystal skull at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris and the one at the Smithsonian.

The Mitchell-Hedges Skull is particularly storied, with legends of its glossy shine coming from generations of polishing, and tales of its magical properties. Unfortunately, those elements of its story are likely false. As Live Science reports, Jane MacLaren Walsh, a Smithsonian anthropologist, stated in “Archeology” magazine in 2010: “The Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull is not ancient; not even very old. It was probably made in Europe in the 20th century, and was not polished for five generations. It is not powerful, not scary and not at all what it purports to be.”

There haven’t been any updates on the lawsuit since last month, but this complaint offers an interesting twist on the appearance of these crystal skulls in the 20th century and their eventual unmasking as forgeries. While their origins are definitely in question and archeological evidence suggests the Mayans never came close to these quartz craniums, they still have an enduring mystery. There’s also a “Crystal Skull Conference” and a whole website for crystal skull aficionados, with events and activation instructions for your own crystal skull.

As for the Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull, it has its own website for the current “caretaker,” who “has walked all around the world to spread the crystal skull message.”

Allison Meier

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