By ROB WAUGH
The ‘crystal skulls’ relics of ancient American civilisations have all been exposed as fakes – but a Mayan carved skull appears to be the real thing.
Not only that, experts believe the relic – buried along with its owner between 250AD and 600AD – may have been a replica of a ‘hand guard’ worn when the Mayans played a game not dissimilar to squash.
There was one crucial difference, though – the losers would sometimes become human sacrifices.
‘This was something given to the museum in the early Seventies,’ museum curator Justin Jennings told Livescience.
The skull is made from limestone – commonly used in Mayan carvings from the city of Palenque.
It’s life-sized – for a monkey, not a human – and has eight inlaid teeth made of shells, with a single black tooth of iron.
The eyes might also have had shells in the hollows.
Jennings said that the skull might be a symbol of protective gear worn during a ball game – a ritualistic sport of which there are remains at several Mayan sites.
The game revolved around keeping a ball ‘in play’ – similar to squash – and the players often wore protective gear to prevent them being injured.
This would have been scant consolation to the losers – who would sometimes become human sacrifices.
‘The stone versions are put into tombs because when the Maya go to the afterlife, they’re going to be playing the ball game,’ says Jennings. ‘They play in life, and they play in death.’
The skull is part of an exhibition of Mayan art at the Museum of Toronto, in Canada.