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Learning English - Words in the News
26 May, 2008 - Published 11:00 GMT
Crystal skulls 'are modern fakes'
Crystal skull from the British Museum

They are the mysterious items featured in the new Indiana Jones film and were once thought to be made by sophisticated ancient cultures. But a new scientific study has revealed two of the most famous crystal skulls are much more modern. This report from Paul Rincon:

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When sculptures of human skulls made from translucent crystal began appearing in museums during the 19th Century they were presented as relics made by ancient American civilisations. But a new scientific analysis has shown that two of the most famous examples are fakes, crafted between the 19th and 20th Centuries to take advantage of a burgeoning antiquities market.

The skulls in question are held at the British Museum in London and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. But they were probably manufactured using modern tools and polishing methods never available to the Aztecs or Mayans.

Who made the fake skulls is still a mystery, but some suspect a 19th Century French antiquities dealer was behind the British artefact. Archaeologists say the work should end decades of speculation over the origins of these controversial objects. But the discovery could disappoint the many enthusiasts fascinated by the beauty and sophistication of these intriguing carvings.

Paul Rincon, BBC Science Reporter

Listen to the words

almost but not completely clear; you can see through a translucent object but not completely

interesting objects from the past

not genuine but copies


a burgeoning antiquities market
a growing popularity in buying old items

Aztecs or Mayans
old civilizations from what is now Mexico and southern Mexico/northern Central America.


was behind
was responsible for

old object which has historical importance

decades of speculation
tens of years of argument, discussion and guessing

To take away
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