Carved out of rock crystal and long believed to be Aztec this beautiful object now appears to be a 19th Century fake. But still a work of art in its own right. From the British Museum.
"The first crystal skulls made their appearance in the early 1860s: they are small, usually not more than one and a half inches high, and the first to be documented seems to be the one in the British Museum, with others appearing in Paris and Mexico City over the next decade or so. This “first generation” of skulls is drilled from top to bottom, and may have been made from genuine pre-Hispanic crystal beads, which are known from archaeological contexts in Mexico; some may have been made as a memento mori, carved for the European market, with no intention to deceive.
"The Paris crystal skulls came from Eugène Boban, who ran antiquities shops in Mexico City and then in Paris in the 1870s, and who produced the first of a “second generation” of skulls, lifesize and unperforated. Failing to sell it in Paris or Mexico, where it was denounced as a fake, Boban set up shop in New York in 1886 and sold the skull at auction.
"Tiffany and Co bought it for $950 but a decade later sold it to the British Museum for the same amount. It became known as “the Aztec crystal skull” until modern workmanship was detected in the 1960s. Dr Jane Walsh, of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, who recently examined it with an electron microscope, considers it to be a 19th-century European “invention” carved with modern lapidary's equipment. "
Damian Hurst was inspired by this - and by other genuinely Aztec jade-encrusted skulls- to create his diamond-studded skull piece: