PARIS (AFP) — As Indiana Jones gets set to hit cinema screens with a new death-defying adventure in the "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", a Paris museum acknowledged Friday that its own star exhibit crystal skull was not what it was cracked up to be.
One of only a dozen such skulls known to exist worldwide, the Quai Branly museum's piece was acquired in 1878 from an Indiana Jones-type explorer, Alphonse Pinart, as an Aztec masterpiece believed to be hundreds of years old, the remnant of an ancient and mysterious civilisation.
But in a statement Friday the museum admitted the skull, rather than dating from the Aztec period, was probably made in the 19th century.
From May 20 the Paris skull goes on view to coincide with the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" -- the fourth installment in Harrison Ford's archaeologist's adventures since the 1981 blockbuster "Raiders of the Lost Ark".
While the plot of the latest archeological epic by Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas remains a tightly-guarded secret, bets are the Indiana Jones movie will mirror Aztec beliefs surrounding the skulls.
Legend has it that the Paris skull represents the Aztecs' Mictlantecuhtli, who reigned over the land of the deceased, Mictlan. Reuniting all 12 existing skulls plus a supposed-to-exist 13th could prevent the earth from tipping over, according to fable.
In a statement Friday, the Quai Branly said results of an analysis of its skull in 2007-2008 by the country's C2RMF research and restoration centre "seem to indicate that it was made late in the 19th century."
Over the past decade experts had voiced growing doubts over the Aztec origin of the crystal skulls, one of which is in the British Museum, another at Washington's Smithsonian Institute.
The London skull was examined twice, in 1996 and 2004, and both studies tended to prove it was a fake, though the final conclusions have not been made public.
Fashioned in clear quartz crystal and 11 centimetres (4.4 inches) high, the Paris skull is marked by grooves and perforations that "reveal the use of jewellery burrs and other modern tools," the museum said.
"Never has such technical precision been found in pre-Colombian art."
C2RMF engineers Thomas Calligaro and Yvan Coquinot told AFP that three months of analysis of the skull highlighted that the piece "is certainly not pre-Columbian, it shows traces of polishing and abrasion by modern tools."
Analysis by a particle accelerator had also shown traces of water dating from the 19th century, they said.
Like the London skull, the Paris piece was once in the hands of Eugene Boban, a controversial Paris dealer in archaeological objects believed to be well aware of the production of fake antiquities.
But though no crystal skull yet found at archaeological digs has proved to be authentic, the 12 located around the world continue to arouse interest and speculation.
Apart from the Paris, London and Smithsonian skulls, nine belong to private individuals -- the skull of destiny, the Sha-Na-Ra skull, the synergy skull, the Max skull, the Maya skull, a so-called E.T. skull, the amethyst skull, the reliquary cross skull and the pink crystal skull.
Each skull was supposed to correspond to 12 worlds in which human life was present. They were brought by the Itza, the ancient people of Atlantis, to their civilisation in order to pass on their knowledge to man.
The 13th world, the land, also had its own crystal skull, and all 13 skulls were kept in a great pyramid by the Olmecs, the Mayas and ultimately the Aztecs.
The Aztecs are said to have been responsible for the dispersal and loss of the skulls, which when brought together possessed great powers, including being lined up on the last day of the Maya calendar -- December 21, 2012 -- to prevent the earth from tipping over.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »