As you might have noticed, this month marks the release of Indy IV, and while it's hard to have any faith that George Lucas won't have pulled a Phantom Menace on us all, anticipation is still running high. And the publicity machine is doing what it can to keep those fires burning.
And here's the latest: an interview with the British Museum that gets to grips with the myths and truths of those strange Aztec artefacts, crystal skulls. Questions are posed like "What is it?", "Why was it produced?" and "Do they have special powers?"
So if you were one of those people who said "Indiana Jones and the What?" (only to be hit again by the Quantum of Solace pratfall), this is for you....
The skull on display British Museum is life-size and carved from a block of rock crystal (a variety of quartz), and was acquired in 1897. At time of purchase the skull was said to have been brought from Mexico by a Spanish officer before the French occupation of 1863, and it was on display at the Museum of Mankind for many years.
Unfortunately, however, it's a fake. The Museum tells us: "scientific research has established that the skull was most likely produced in the 19th century in Europe". They go on to add that there is one other crystal skull on display in the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC, and a few others in private collections but "it seems highly unlikely that any are genuine Aztec objects".
In fact, in answer to the question, "Are there any genuine Aztec crystal skulls", the Museum says no. "No quartz crystal skull has ever been found on any of the many well-documented official archaeological excavations of ancient sites." It seems the mythology of crystal skulls was instead constructed by European art dealers in the 19th century when popular interest in all things Aztec was high. So the Museum concludes:
"As entertainment the movie will surely appeal to the public, but it is very much a work of fiction. We hope, however, that it will encourage visitors to see the skull at the British Museum and to learn more about Aztec culture."
Which, don't forget, crystal skulls are not.