A crystal skull revered by New Age followers for its perceived ancient mystical powers is likely to be a fake, an academic said today.
The almost life-sized skull, which was sold to London's British Museum in 1897, was thought to have been a relic from the Aztec civilisation in Mexico.
However, research by a British professor has added weight to the theory that it was probably made in 19th century Europe from a lump of poor quality Brazilian crystal.
Professor Ian Freestone, of the University of Wales in Cardiff, examined the skull and now believes it was cut and polished with a wheeled instrument. The Aztecs never used the wheel.
Furthermore, the type of crystal used is common in Brazil but has never been found in Mexico.
And the surface of the skull, which contains tiny bubbles that glint in the light, is more sharply defined than softer looking Aztec crystal relics with which it has been compared.
Prof Freestone, formerly head of scientific research at the British Museum, led a team from the museum who took casts of the surface using dental resin which were then examined close-up using a scanning electron microscope.
He said: "It does appear that in some areas of the skull they have used a rotary tool and as far as we know that sort of technique was only introduced after the Europeans came to the Americas, so it's post-Columbus.
"We know this from looking at other south and central American objects and evidence from Spanish priests. When they first came to the Americas they showed the traditional way of working stone."
However, Prof Freestone said that despite the strong circumstantial evidence suggesting the skull was 19th century European in origin, it does not amount to cast-iron proof.
Some people may still argue the markings come from more recent polishing.
"Stone is one of the hardest materials to date. That is why it has been an open question for so long. It's still not definitively solved and it will never be," he said.
The skull, which stands 8in (21cm) high, can be interpreted as a symbol of spiritual belief, death and the afterlife. Crystal is also believed by some to be powerful.
It was originally thought to have been brought from Mexico by a Spanish officer in the 19th century.
It was sold to the British Museum by a New York jeweller who bought it from Frenchman Eugene Boban, who curiously appears to be linked with another crystal skull now at the Musee de l'Homme in Paris.
The debate over its true origin has raged since the 1950s when an examination first raised the question it was crafted with a rotary tool.
But despite its dubious past, Prof Freestone said its appeal is undeniable.
"It's all tied up with people's attitudes to belief, death and the afterlife. There is mystery and people like a mystery.
"If you see this skull in bright light it is fairly impressive, whatever your views about its origin. Most people who have encountered it do say it has made an impression."