In a cleverly-played example of turning a negative into a positive, the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, The Netherlands, has incorporated a mosaic-tiled skull that it discovered to be fake into its collection. The skull was one of the museum’s star pieces for decades, and was bought from Mexico in 1963 for $20,000/€18,823. It was believed to have come from the era of the Mixtec, an ancient Mexican people who decorated skulls with precious stones and put them in crypts.
The discovery was made during the museum’s “Masterpieces under the microscope,” programme, which used the latest high-tech technologies to examine three pieces from its Central and South America collection. While the skull was believed to be hundreds of years old, research revealed that the glue used on it wasn’t available until the last century. The museum now suspects that the skull actually came from a Mexican dentist and his wife, who dug up skulls and then decorated them.
Doubts arose after questions were raised about a similar skull in a French museum. The Dutch museum doesn’t have plans to remove the skull from its collection however, and the story of how its true origins were discovered have become part of the exhibition.
The second item examined was the 18th-century manuscript Izcatqui, the only handwritten manuscript in the Netherlands in the native Aztec language. The third was an ancient manuscript called Codex Anute, a Mixtec codex from the 16th Century. It was found to contain hidden drawings, which are now visible again.
For further information on the collection and this programme, please visit the National Museum of Ethnology.