Anyone intrigued by the crystal skulls in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will want to check out the Smithsonian Networks and Infinity Entertainment Group’s latest release. The Legend of the Crystal Skulls examines the authenticity of four crystal skulls thought to be either Mayan or Aztec artifacts and, to some, part of an ancient Mayan legend referred to in the Indiana Jones movie.
The Smithsonian Network’s mandate is to showcase cultural and historical programming, largely based on Smithsonian assets, and this does seem a wise way to promote the Smithsonian. The documentary is a combination of ripping yarn, as we learn about swashbuckling archeologists, ancient legends, and devious plans, and scientific examination, as we learn how ancient objects are dated and the providence of objects determined. The ripping yarn is the most gripping part of the program — tool marks don’t have the panache of hidden skulls and legends of doom — but the whole program holds together well and is an interesting exploration of how a legend was born.
The Mayan legend of the crystal skulls (which formed the basis of the latest Indiana Jones) says that extraterrestrial beings gave thirteen crystal skulls to the Mayans, and when those thirteen skulls come together, they will give human beings knowledge from other civilizations. In the 1970s, Anna Mitchell-Hedges, the owner of a crystal skull rather wonderfully named The Skull of Doom, brought the legend into the popular consciousness and gave it more colour in the process.
The 1970s was fertile ground for ancient objects of power, as new age spiritualism was growing by leaps and bounds. The apparently ancient Skull of Doom was embraced by many people seeking spiritual growth, and the skull was imbued with many magical qualities. Other crystal skulls were also seen to have spiritual powers and be of alien origin, and a whole cult grew up about crystal skulls, gathering the lost civilisation of Atlantis in as part of the legend. And Anna Mitchell-Hedges was at the centre of the publicity around the skulls.
The documentary really gets going when it examines Anna’s story. Her father, Frederick Mitchell-Hedges, was a swashbuckling adventurer and amateur archeologist, rather in the mould of Indiana Jones, though perhaps less professional in terms of proper excavation techniques and documentation of finds. He adopted Anna when she was ten, and the two of them were apparently in the ancient Mayan site of Lubataan in what is now modern Belize when they came across a pyramid on Anna’s seventeenth birthday. According to Anna, she found a beautiful crystal skull in the pyramid, but oddly, her father made no public announcement of the find, despite how unique it is. No mention was made of what would be called The Skull of Doom until Anna began to publicise it after her father’s death.