'Indiana Jones' Makers Sued Over Crystal Skull

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An archaeologist in Belize is suing the makers of the film "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," claiming that the story is based upon a national treasure looted nearly a century ago from the small Central American country.

According to the Hollywood Reporter,

On Wednesday, one of the most entertaining lawsuits of the year was filed in Illinois federal court. It comes from Dr. Jaime Awe, director of the Institute of Archeology of Belize. This real-life Indiana Jones is suing on behalf of the nation of Belize over the Crystal Skull artifact, popularized in the 2008 Steven Spielberg film "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," Awe is demanding the return of the Crystal Skull from a treasure-hunting family that allegedly stole it 88 years ago from Belize.

Awe is suing Lucasfilm, the Walt Disney Company, and Paramount Pictures. Awe states that the crystal skull described in the film was stolen by a British explorer (and sometime archaeologist) named F.A. Mitchell-Hedges during a visit to the Maya ruins of Lubantuun in the jungle of Belize in the early 1920s.

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His adopted daughter Anna Mitchell-Hedges is said to have discovered the skull while exploring the ruins. They returned to England with the skull, and Anna regularly exhibited the skull after her father's death in 1959.

In his complaint Awe cites a 1928 "Antiquities Ordinance" which prohibited the removal of artifacts from Belize without express government permission. Since the crystal skull was illegally removed from the ruins and used as a basis for the most recent Indiana Jones film, Awe and Belize want a cut of the profits and the return of the stolen skull which they see as part of their cultural heritage.

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"Lucasfilm never sought, nor was given permission to utilize the Mitchell-Hedges Skull or its likeness in the Film," says the complaint. "To date, Belize has not participated in any of the profits derived from the sale of the Film or the rights thereto."

The True Story of the Crystal Skull

It's unlikely that the lawsuit will go anywhere — mostly because (apparently unbeknownst to Awe) it's based on a famous hoax. Daniel Loxton, editor of Junior Skeptic magazine, researched the history of the skull and discovered that Anna Mitchell-Hedges changed her story about how she got the skull at least twice. 

The first account stated that she and her father found the skull together beneath an altar in a ruined temple in 1926. In a 1983 account she claimed she was with a worker who was felling trees in the jungle and saw something shiny beneath the stones and dug it up on the spot. Then she claimed she found it after being lowered into a hidden temple with ropes (ironically, in a scene reminiscent of an Indiana Jones film). Furthermore there's no evidence that Anna even visited the ruins at Lubantuun where she claims to have found the skull.

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The truth is that neither Anna nor her father found the skull, amid the Lubantuun ruins, on eBay, or anywhere else.

The historical record shows that Mr. Mitchell-Hedges

bought the skull from an antiquities collector named Sydney Burney in 1933, which he later sold to pay a debt. It was later purchased by his daughter Anna, who made up an adventurous story about finding it on her 17th birthday in the jungle ruins of a lost city.

All the fanciful, adventurous stories about discovering the crystal skull amid ruins in the Central American jungles were just myths created to craft a colorful backstory to the strange skull. "I discovered it in a long-lost ruined jungle temple" is more fun than "My father bought it from a guy at an auction."

The hoax lasted for decades, and fooled hundreds of crystal skull enthusiasts. Since the Mitchell-Hedges skull was never even in Belize — much less found there in an ancient Maya ruin by an adventurer's teenage daughter — the Belizean government has no claim over it. It's all a myth.

It's not surprising that New Age crystal-gazers were fooled by the bold hoax, though to have director of the Institute of Archaeology of Belize file a lawsuit against Lucasfilms and Disney based upon it is another matter.