'Indiana Jones' Lawsuit Seeks Hollywood Profits from Alleged Crystal Skull Theft (Exclusive)

Indiana Jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull - H 2012

Indiana Jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull - H 2012

To quote one of Indiana Jones' most famous exclamations, "It belongs in a museum!"

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. And if that's not enough, the lawsuit targets Lucasfilm, its new owner the Walt Disney Co. and Crystal Skull distributor Paramount Pictures for allegedly using a replica "likeness" of the Crystal Skull. Among the damages claimed are the "illegal profits" of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The movie grossed about $786 million worldwide.

According to the lawsuit, the Crystal Skull is attributed to Mayan culture and is a hardstone carving from clear or milky quartz that resembles a human skull. It's believed to have magical or otherwise supernatural powers, and there are four known valuable Crystal Skulls in the world. Three are on public display at the British Museum in London, the Musee du quai Branly in Paris and the Smithsonian in Washington.

And the fourth?

Awe, whose profile is listed here, says that a proclaimed adventurer named F.A. Mitchell-Hedges traveled to Belize in the early 1920s. His adopted daughter Anna Mitchell-Hedges is alleged to have discovered a Crystal Skull under a collapsed altar while exploring temple ruins in the Central American country. She reportedly disclosed this in a documentary that aired on Sci Fi Channel (now Syfy) in 2008. The skull is described as 5 inches high, 7 inches long and 5 inches wide. It was taken to the U.S in 1930, then traveled with the father to England and remained there until his death in 1959, after which it was kept by the daughter and later the daughter's husband in Indiana. The family is said to have made money exhibiting it.

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The 2008 film is noted as utilizing a replica that "clearly resembles" the Mitchell-Hedges Skull and specifically references it. On the other hand, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull says the artifact was found in Peru and was of unspecified Native American heritage.

"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 plaintiff is suing the Mitchell-Hedges family for removing the Crystal Skull from the country and never returning it. In movies, an adventuresome archeologist might steal it back. In real life, they go to court.

Just as provocatively, though arguably a tad late, is the claim that the exhibition of the skull in the Spielberg film is unlawful.

The lawsuit filed by attorney Adam Tracy attempts to make this claim by saying that Belize has a "right, title and interest in and to the Mitchell-Hedges Skull and its likeness" and that the film companies have participated in a civil conspiracy and tortiously interfered with its prospective economic advantage.

Paramount declined comment. The full complaint is below.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner