Just about every year since the Carnegie Museum of Natural History acquired it, Fred the Crystal Skull has made an appearance in Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems right around Halloween. So how did we acquire a crystal skull and how did it get the name Fred you ask? Just to set the record straight right off the bat, Fred is not one of the dozen or so mysterious skulls that some think were carved by an ancient Mesoamerican civilization thousands of years ago. Our skull was carved and polished from a single quartz crystal with modern tools in Brazil and was donated to the museum in 2004 by South American Gems, Ltd located in Guarapari, Espirito Santo, Brazil.Germany, China and Brazil currently produce thousands of carved crystal skulls every year in numerous sizes. Fred measures 7.8 inches high by 5 inches wide, which is slightly smaller than the average human skull (8 to 9 inches high and 6 to 7 inches wide) so he was named after a man of small stature, namely the step father of the former Head of the Section of Minerals Marc Wilson. Marc was Section Head from August 1992 to August 2017.
As you can see in the photograph of Fred, he has some internal flaws and fractures which is very common in the mineral quartz. Chemical impurities, physical flaws and twinning in natural quartz are issues that caused industry to develop a commercial process of manufacturing pure, electronics-grade quartz that can be used in circuits for consumer products such as televisions, radios, computers, cell phones and electronic games, just to name a few, and for crystal-controlled clocks and watches. As it so happens, the Section of Minerals also has a few lab-grown quartz crystals in the collection, including a large crystal nicknamed The Football that is nearly a foot across.
You will notice it is so clear that you can see the growth patterns of the bottom surface through the crystal. The Football was part of a donation of 57 lab created specimens given to the Section of Minerals in 2017 by Lynn Boatner just before he retired from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
Debra Wilson is the Collection Manager for the Section of Minerals at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.