Musings of a Political Scientist

Human Skull

Aged Human Skull by Bryan Brandenburg

Human Skull

In humans, the adult skull is normally made up of 29 bones. Except for the mandible, all of the bones of the skull are joined together by sutures, rigid articulations permitting very little movement.

Eight bones form the neurocranium (braincase), a protective vault of bone surrounding the brain and medulla oblongata. Fourteen bones form the splanchnocranium, the bones supporting the face. Encased within the temporal bones are the six ear ossicles of the middle ear. The hyoid bone, supporting the larynx, is usually not considered as part of the skull, as it does not articulate with any other bones.

The skull also contains the sinus cavities, which are air-filled cavities lined with respiratory epithelium, which also lines the large airways. The exact functions of the sinuses are unclear; they may contribute to lessening the weight of the skull with a minimal reduction in strength, or they may be important in improving the resonance of the voice. In some animals, such as the elephant, the sinuses are extensive. The elephant skull needs to be very large, to form an attachment for muscles of the neck and trunk, but is also unexpectedly light; the comparatively small brain-case is surrounded by large sinuses which reduce the weight.

The meninges are the three layers, or membranes, which surround the structures of the central nervous system. They are known as the dura mater, the arachnoid mater and the pia mater. Other than being classified together, they have little in common with each other.

In humans, the anatomical position for the skull is the Frankfurt plane, where the lower margins of the orbits and the upper borders of the ear canals are all in a horizontal plane. This is the position where the subject is standing and looking directly forward. For comparison, the skulls of other species, notably primates and hominids, may sometimes be studied in the Frankfurt plane. However, this does not always equate to a natural posture in life.