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The Man Who Invented Aztec Crystal Skulls: The Adventures of Eugène Boban

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The Man Who Invented Aztec Crystal Skulls

The Adventures of Eugène Boban

Jane MacLaren Walsh and Brett Topping

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348 pages, 81 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78920-095-9 25% OFF! $130.00/£92.00 $97.50/£69.00 Hb Published (November 2018)

ISBN  978-1-78920-478-0 25% OFF! $24.95/£17.00 $18.71/£12.75 Pb Not Yet Published (April 2020)

eISBN 978-1-78920-096-6 eBook

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“When analyzing the complex and surprising personality of the antiquarian Eugène Boban, this book should be considered as an important contribution not only to the biography of the man, but, in a general way, to the history of Americanism that was emerging in the 19th century. In addition to the rich documentation, the book also offers a pleasing and enjoyable narrative. We highly recommend it to both the historian of archeology and the novice eager to know more about the "mystery" of the crystal skulls.” • HISTOIRE(S) de l'Amérique latine

“The very detailed and well-documented description of practices of exchange and trade in archaeological objects opens up many avenues for research on the behavior of researchers and the future of collections. Far from being about only Americanism, Jane Walsh and Brett Topping's book paints an unprecedented panorama of the environments and practices of nascent archaeological research. It goes far beyond the biographical aspect of the hero, which serves as a guide for them to reach the level of a true sociological study of the founding community of our discipline.” • Nouvelles d'Archéologie

“An excellent biography of a little-known but important figure in the nineteenth-century history of American archaeology…” • Norman Hammond, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge University


Eugène Boban began life in humble circumstances in Paris, traveled to the California Gold Rush, and later became a recognized authority on pre-Columbian cultures.  He also invented an entire category of archaeological artifact: the Aztec crystal skull. By his own admission, he successfully “palmed off” a number of these crystal skulls on the curators of Europe’s leading museums. How could that happen, and who was this man? Detailed are the travels, self-education, and archaeological explorations of Eugène Boban; this book also explores the circumstances that allowed him to sell fakes to museums that would remain undetected for over a century.

Jane MacLaren Walsh, anthropologist emerita at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, is an internationally recognized authority on crystal skulls and other fake pre-Columbian antiquities. Her most recent research combines geology and archaeology in a study of the iconic stone faces of Teotihuacan.

Brett Topping has been a professional writer and editor of arts and humanities publications for more than thirty-five years. During her career she was Editor at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, and Director of Publications for the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA).

Subject: Museum Studies Archaeology
Area: Latin America


List of illustrations
Authors' Note
List of Abbreviations

Introduction: On the Trail of Crystal Skulls

Chapter 1. Caveat Emptor
Chapter 2. Between Old World and New
Chapter 3. Mexico: Ancient to Modern
Chapter 4. Mexico at Mid-Century
Chapter 5. The Emperor’s Antiquarian: A Collection Takes Shape
Chapter 6. Confronting a Different Paris
Chapter 7. Marketing a Collection
Chapter 8. A Premier Collection
Chapter 9. Narratives of Provenance
Chapter 10. The Rue du Sommerard Decade

Chapter 11. Of Fakes and Fakers
Chapter 12. From Student to Teacher: Dealer to Curator
Chapter 13. Good Deals and Bad
Chapter 14. Back in Business
Chapter 15. Fingerprints on Crystal Skulls
Chapter 16. Courting the Smithsonian
Chapter 17. Of Fakes, Forgers and Frauds
Chapter 18. “El Tocayo’s” Triumph
Chapter 19. Later Life
Chapter 20. Afterlife



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