The Mystery of the Crystal Skulls by Chris Morton and Ceri Louise Thomas

August 1, 2008 at 5:30 pm (Bad Science, Crystal Skulls, Woo) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

The other day, I spotted the authors wittering on about crystal skulls in the Daily Mail – perhaps riding on the coat-tails of the latest Indiana Jones movie. I was reminded first of this picture on the Apathy Sketchpad blog: I think it’s a reference to Peep Show.

The next thing I remembered was that I had some scraps of paper somewhere with a few notes on this Chris Morton book. I thought I might as well post these here, as crystal skulls aren’t something I’ve blogged before and it might be nice to have a change. I occasionally get recommendations to read pseudoscientific nonsense, as I know a few woo-ish people – what never ceases to amaze me is their capacity to believe that a book of bullshit will be so convincing that upon reading it I will be see the light and be converted to whatever their particular brand of woo is.

Page ten has an interesting point about some Mayan temples – “each one was constructed so carefully in this organic fashion that it seems the builders had no need for cement or any type of binding material”. Wow, amazing. Maybe Morton should visit North Yorkshire – those dry stone walls would blow his mind. Page nineteen includes a claim that Mayan priests believe the Mitchell-Hedges skull to be 100,000 years old. Wonder if this skull had a manufacture date stamped on it? Perhaps there are records dating back for a hundred thousand years? Maybe we’ll never know, because Morton doesn’t seem to want to tell us. Page twenty one asks of the crystal skulls “how could simple, primitive people have created something so complicated?”, which is perhaps a little patronising. If he genuinely thinks the Mayans were so simple and primitive, though, why does he raise the amazing cement-free buildings on page ten? They are first given credit for ingenuity and then called simple and primitive.

On page twenty four, there is a claim that the skull defies explanation and it is then noted that “from its discovery it had been widely recognised that the skull was strange, extraordinary and powerful.” Who was it that recognised that the skull was powerful, strange and extraordinary? In what way was the skull so amazing? How does the skull ‘defy explanation’? We know that crystal skulls can be manufactured because there are companies advertising their craft on the internet, like this one: “ShenZhen XiangYun Crystal Co Ltd, a professional manufacturer and supplier of crystal craftwork located in South area, China.” [from TradeKey dot com – registration required]

On pages twenty five and twenty six, there is a bit about someone communing with the skull and the ‘skull-user’ [what does one call someone who ‘operates’ a crystal skull?] and he is said to be “absorbed” – I think I know what they mean, I get the same thing from reading an Inspector Morse novel. Sometimes I think I could forget to eat I’m so absorbed in the book, but I’m not sure this means Colin Dexter’s books have special powers and communicate with me psychically in order to tell me the secrets of the Atlanteans. Page twenty nine reveals that when strong sunlight shines on a skull, objects beneath the skull begin to burn. I noticed something similar as a child when using a magnifying glass outdoors in summer, does that mean magnifying glasses are mystical too?

I stopped making regular notes at this point. I was beginning to feel that the game wasn’t worth the candle. I then came to the chapter I was really interested in. Perhaps this was where I would finally be able to get my teeth into some evidence – chapter five is titled “The Scientists”. There are just three references for this chapter, one a paper in a journal called Man [that I don’t seem to be able to find on Google], one is Frederick Mitchell-Hedges’ book [FMH once wrote a book that led archaeologist J. Eric S. Thompson to say “to me the wonder was how he could write such nonsense and the fear how much taller the next yarn would be”] and the other was much trumpeted by Chris Morton – it was a piece in a Hewlett-Packard newsletter. Where’s the science? There isn’t any – well, not in the book anyway. Here is an abstract of a study that was published this year in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The British Museum skull was worked with hard abrasives such as corundum or diamond, whereas X-ray diffraction revealed traces of carborundum (SiC), a hard modern synthetic abrasive, on the Smithsonian skull […] These findings led to the conclusion that the British Museum skull was worked in Europe during the nineteenth century. The Smithsonian Institution skull was probably manufactured shortly before it was bought in Mexico City in 1960; large blocks of white quartz would have been available from deposits in Mexico and the USA.

So, er – not Atlantis then? Or a Mayan temple 100,000 years ago? Oh well. This writing thing sounds like a bit of a lark to me. You don’t need evidence, you just need an idea wacky enough for people to pick up on it. I suppose it’s true that the bigger the lie, the more it will be believed. [Interesting post here on big lies and the politicians who tell them – from Hitler and Goebbels to Bush and Cheney]. I just need an idea mad enough and one day I will have a bestselling book of my own.

Frederick Mitchell-Hedges seems to have been the catalyst for the Crystal Skull mania, and Brian Hadley-James claims to have accessed the information within the Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull by channelling (his website crystalskulls dot com is currently selling this priceless knowledge at $44 per e-book). What are the odds it’s nothing but bullshit? EDIT: Check out badarchaeology.net for more on Crystal Skulls. EDIT 2: Forgot about this piece – Atlantis and Crystal Skulls.

19 Comments

  1. Charlotte said,

    There’s a pretty comprehensive review of the archaeology (or lack of it) over at Bad Archaeology: http://www.badarchaeology.net/data/ooparts/crystal.php

    Archaeology is particularly prone to this brand of ‘wisdom of the ancients’ woo, even with real artifacts, because there’s so much room for interpretation. I’m trying to believe that archaeological science will triumph in the end, but Bonekickers isn’t an encouraging sign.

  2. jdc325 said,

    Thanks for the comment and link Charlotte. The magic crystal skulls are supposed to be linked to Atlantis (and possibly the Akashic Records if I remember rightly) and Bad Archaeology even has an Atlantis page – here if anyone else is interested in checking it out.

  3. apgaylard said,

    The BBC carried a pretty good story on this in May. Nice post.

  4. jdc325 said,

    APGaylard – never mind plugging the BBC, I’ve just found a post on Magic Atlantean Crystals that is far more interesting: WooBingo – had forgotten about it until I saw you had commented. I would have linked to it if I’d remembered it – I could have done with a bit more on the Atlantean angle. [The other piece I’ve previously read on crystals worth mentioning is the essay Dawkins wrote that features in the Devil’s Chaplain.]

  5. Edward Synge said,

    As a gullible idiot i had believed that there was some truth in the stories about the skulls until watching an excellent exposee 4 weeks ago on UK TV

  6. jdc325 said,

    I missed that show as it was on Channel 5, which (ridiculously) I cannot get at the moment. Thanks for the comment Edward.

  7. Nash said,

    I’m off to see “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” next week. Much more realistic than those Indiana Jones movies. :-)

  8. drboli said,

    When one thinks of a people who had invented the ideas of zero and place value, and had used them to calculate numbers up to approximately (if one’s memory is correct) one bajillion, all while Europeans struggled to multiply CLIV by XXXVIII; who, furthermore, had created some of the planet’s most magnificent architecture, and created what may be the most aesthetically pleasing system of writing ever devised by the mind of man–well, one is a bit put off to hear them described as “simple, primitive people.” This observation is not strictly relevant, since the Maya apparently had nothing to do with the crystal skulls in question; but it is a good example of the peculiar racism that is still endemic in discussions of pre-Columbian America.

  9. jdc325 said,

    Thanks for the comment Dr Boli. I thought it was a bit off to describe the Mayans as ‘primitive’. I used the word patronising, but I think it’s fair to discuss the possibly racist nature of these comments. What’s also interesting is the weird view of the past that some people tend to have. Any sufficiently ancient object seems to be automatically mysterious and ‘other’, any ancient peoples are generally assumed to be primitive [perhaps there’s an element of ‘cultural ageism’ as well as (or rather than) racism]. Bad Archaeology has a page on “extraterrestrial archaeology” that says it:

    covers claims that ancient human beings were too stupid to have achieved anything by themselves, so they needed guidance from outside. In our technological age, we need no longer believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden or in heavenly gods. So when the ancients wrote about gods in the sky, they must have really meant all those kind extraterrestrials who came down and gave us the benefits of culture…

    I think arrogance has a fair bit to do with it – people do tend to assume that they are cleverer than their ancestors, perhaps because, generally, we have expanded on the knowledge of our ancestors. The irony is that without the discoveries of our ancestors, we wouldn’t have had anything to build on in the first place. Which reminds me a bit of that quotation:

    If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants.

  10. AlexM said,

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  11. Paul Hobday said,

    Does not sound like any of you read the book fully!!!!!!!!!!!! least of all the first post, you gave up before the end. I bet you know all there is to know in the world and can prove it with scientific evidence………..yawn yawn yawn

  12. jdc325 said,

    Thanks for the comment Paul.

    “Does not sound like any of you read the book fully!!!!!!!!!!!! least of all the first post, you gave up before the end.
    “I certainly did read the book fully – the only thing I gave up on was making notes, as the early chapters were representative of the book as a whole.

    “I bet you know all there is to know in the world and can prove it with scientific evidence…”
    Of course, I never claimed that I knew all there was to know in the world or that I could prove this with scientific evidence. Nice straw man, though.

    “yawn yawn yawn”
    To be honest, I do find science fascinating. It is so much more interesting than all the handwaving and bullshit you get not just from Alt Med practitioners, but also from people who write crappy, unevidenced books about magic crystal skulls.

    PS – did you have a job lot of punctuation marks or was there some other reason why you chose to use quite so many exclamation marks? Perhaps you are angry that it was your particular delusion [magic crystal skulls] that was being challenged in this post?

  13. smartin said,

    to all who have written here, nothing can replace direct experience, and only a few of you seem open enough to “new” ideas. Like you want the rest of the world to believe it before you will. Thankfully these situations are impermenant, but by saying no in life the answers you recieve will be no aswell. The circles i move in are open but not foolish. If you are ever fortunate enough to work with these ancient tools, then you would know, like i said nothing can replace direct experience, we can believe anything we like, but to know is a whole different ball game

  14. jdc325 said,

    “…nothing can replace direct experience…”
    Ah, the privileging of anecdote over data. I’ve yet to see anyone justify the claim that anecdotal evidence is superior to information garnered using the scientific method. Would you like to try?

  15. JoeMa'ma said,

    “Anecdote over data?” Labeling something “such and such” does not make it so. Your article is bigoted, irresponsible, condescending and ultimately naive. My experience tells me you probably spend a lot of time being miserable and arguing, don’t like yourself very much and have troubles relating to the opposite sex. But don’t worry, that’s just anecdotal evidence. I am sure your data in the lab will prove otherwise. Science is fascinating but is nothing compared to experience.

  16. jdc325 said,

    Thank you for your comment JoeMa’ma.

    The previous commenter stated that “nothing can replace direct experience” – if this were true then anecdote would be more important than data. I haven’t labelled anything as anecdote or data, these are terms that already exist and are fairly well defined. I am waiting for smartin to justify the claim that nothing can replace direct experience, but if you wish to attempt to justify this claim then you are more than welcome to provide your justification here.

    Would you care to point out where my article is bigoted, irresponsible, or naive?

    Would you like to explain how your experience can tell you anything about my personality or personal life, given that we have never met and you have no experience of me other than a blog post that you’ve read?

    “Science is fascinating but is nothing compared to experience.”
    I’d be interested to know what your point is here. Are you claiming that the only way to know the truth is to experience it for yourself? While this may be true of something that is subjective (e.g., am I in love with this girl, did I enjoy that movie), it is surely untrue if we are discussing something scientific. For example, my anecdotes about medical treatments I have had are pretty much worthless in comparison to data that has been carefully collected in well-designed trials that attempted to eliminate bias. We find out about safety and efficacy by conducting well-run trials, not by asking individuals for anecdotes for very good reasons.

  17. Nash said,

    anecdote = one persons experience

    scientific data = lots of peoples experiences

    Science is experience

  18. Kadir Buxton « Stuff And Nonsense said,

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    […] couple of years ago, I had a comment from someone upset that I was sceptical of magic crystal skulls. Their comment focused on […]

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