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The Man Who Invented Aztec Crystal Skulls
The Adventures of Eugène Boban
Jane MacLaren Walsh and Brett Topping
348 pages, 81 illus., bibliog., index
ISBN 978-1-78920-095-9 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (November 2018)
ISBN 978-1-78920-478-0 $19.95/£15.95 Pb Published (April 2020)
eISBN 978-1-78920-096-6 eBook
“This engaging and richly documented narrative reconstructs the achievements of a controversial personality, much admired at the time, forgotten since, but now rediscovered…This groundbreaking book traces Boban’s contribution to the study and dissemination both of important genuine artefacts and of ingeniously confected ones.” • Journal of the History of Collections
“Topping and Walsh entered here into an extremely successful collaboration as authors that offers to the last page, a fascinating read like that of an economic, historical and sensational crime thriller and above all of a biography of the social climber Boban whose historical interests, combined with an entrepreneurial spirit, brought him riches and travels throughout the world.” • Amerindian Research
“This book that is focusing on the complex personality of the antique dealer Eugène Boban, must also be considered as a major contribution not only to the biography of this amazing personality but, more importantly, to the history of the evolving Americanism in the 19th century. Furthermore, this well documented work offers the delight of being an easy and pleasant read. One can’t recommend it too highly to the specialist of historical archaeology as well as to a newcomer who wishes to enter this field of scholarship.” • Journal de la Société des américanistes
“This is a most satisfying biography/social history; it is scholarship at its most entrancing and enlightening. It should be read and reread.” • Fortean Times
“The book is not just a complete biography of Eugène Boban, or one that focuses exclusively on the problem of crystal skulls. It is much more than that. It is an excellent work that rescues the life and trajectory of a great antiquarian and historian. It recovers not only his contributions to the development of those areas of science that interested him, but also illuminates the entire commercial and intellectual context in which he operated during the second half of the 19th century, when everything was still to be discovered, both in the old and in the new world. The book is highly recommended.” • Rey des Nudo
“This is a well-illustrated, very easy to read book that wears its (excellent) scholarship lightly. Although there is some discussion of the ten or so rock crystal skulls,… it concentrates on the man; it places Eugene Boban firmly within his historical context (revolutionary times in France and Mexico). It is balanced, using original documents and does him justice…This book is a treat and the man, was definitely a lovable rogue.” • World Archaeology
“Walsh and Topping’s investigation is detailed, thorough, readable and the final word on one of the popular icons of archaeology.” • Antiquity
“While the crystal skull story is a fascinating one, the impact of this book goes far beyond it: it is a must-read for anyone who wants to explore the murky world of nineteenth-century archaeological collecting and museums.” • Latin American Antiquity
“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).