Cracking the mystery of the crystal skull

One of the 'real' skulls is on display in Paris

CANNES -- The biggest star in Cannes is very old, very famous and at the center of a major Hollywood movie making its debut here Sunday.

But while it may have been nearly 20 years since Harrison Ford last slipped on Indiana Jones' signature leather jacket, the actor is a spring chicken compared with the other star of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," namely the eponymous skull, which dates back to the 19th century.

From May 20-Sept. 7, the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris will exhibit the famous 11 centimeter-high, 2.5 kilogram Paris-based crystal skull, parallel to the release of the long-awaited fourth installment in the Indiana Jones saga.

According to legend, the crystal skull is one of 12 located across the globe. The skulls allegedly corresponded to the 12 worlds where human life was present, with the land also forming its own skull, making 13 total. The Olmecs, the Mayans and then the Aztecs kept the skulls in a great pyramid and the objects were said to be able to speak and sing when all were together.

Crystal skulls such as that at the Musee du Quai Branly have been displayed in museums all over the world (the British Museum and the Smithsonian, for example) but all have proven to be fakes, more likely constructed in the late 19th century. So why such a fuss if they're all fakes?

"In the end, everyone is free to believe what they want to believe," the Musee du Quai Branly's director of permanent collections Yves Le Fur said as he unveiled the eerily beautiful artifact at a recent ceremony at the museum.

"The meaning and value of the skull has changed over the years. Just the fact that there's a major movie being made about it today shows that the value of an object is relative to our own interest," Le Fur said.

The skull is said to have both good and evil powers, but "Indiana Jones" distributor Paramount is hoping the skull will use its powers for boxoffice good when the film is released in Gaul on Wednesday.

Paramount says that Spielberg may stop by the Paris exhibit on his way back from Cannes after presenting the film Out of Competition..

The skull, however, will not be walking the red carpet for the film's Cannes world premiere. "We couldn't find a tuxedo for it," Paramount France boss Camille Trumer said.