Archive for the ‘Skull Science’ Category


Momento Mori II – Emily Evans

May 10, 2015

Emily Evans has, quite possibly, the best job in the world. What allows her to have this job (and prevents people like me from having it…) is obviously a fairly hefty dose of genuine talent.

As a professional medical illustrator she spends her days blurring the boundaries between art and science.

In addition to a very impressive collection of technical drawings, she has a number of ‘less rigid’ but still scientifically and anatomically accurate (squee!) pieces worthy of admiration.

Emily Evans_Memento_Mori_Print_

Momento Mori II – Emily Evans

This magnificent lady is not just a pretty face. The Momento Mori II image is also a beautiful skull.

In addition to a perky quiff and rosebud lips, this chick is sporting infraorbital (on her cheeks) and mental (on her chin) foramen, darling nasal bones and sutures around the zygomatic bones.

And, if that pic is not enough for you, it is well worth a visit to the website where you can pick up all sorts of cool stuff including skull cushions and skull wall paper. Yes, you read that right, skull wall paper.

If anyone is trying to work out what I want for xmas, I want this. I want it a lot.


The Royal (lion) skull

May 28, 2013

If you have even been to the Tower of London you will know that it can be an overwhelming sight.  But now imagine that, with lions!

For many years, the Royal family kept a kind of zoo – the Royal Menagerie – which held animals that had been gifted from influential friends and followers.

I have to be honest, I am personally glad that the Royal Menagerie no longer exists, because lets be honest, its no place for a lion. The sad thing is though, that because it is no longer, we can’t meet these old Barbary lions that are now extinct in the wild… not a live version anyway.

You can however, pop into the Natural History Museum in London and introduce yourself to the skull of a Royal lion.

The museum collection holds two skulls that were recovered from the grounds of the Tower of London during excavations in 1937.


Tough day at the office Barbary lion? Cos lets be honest, who hasnt wanted to bite the face off the person next to you while at work? Pic credit – Mirror UK/Rick Findler/Barcroft

The skulls have given scientists a cool insight into the lives of the lions in the Royal menagerie, including the fact that their diet was probably inadequate – visible by malformation of the foramen magnum.


Pic credit – Natural History Museum

The skull here, as you can see, is a veritable nerdgasm of craniophile goodness. It has a good set of (super sharp) canine teeth, some visible nasal concha, a massive infraorbital foramen below his eyes and two neat mental foramen on the lower jaw.

So if you are heading to the Natural History Museum, or anywhere close, head in and meet the lion!  Say hi for us, Barbary Lion and I go way back (I’m an ex-queen you see).

As a side note, does anyone else love the word menagerie?


Another whale of a time with skull hide and seek

May 16, 2013

You may remember my previous post about Ned Kelly as the skull hide and seek champion… but now, I think he has some heavy duty competition for the title.

The skull of a Bryde’s whale – property of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery – has gone AWOL from a beach on the South end of the Great Southern Land (Australia for any non-Icehouse fans out there… not that that is possible).

At 2m long, approximately 100kg and 100% stinky, you would imagine that the skull would have been to difficult to take from the beach, but that didnt stop some exuberant skull collector! Or maybe the Bryde’s skull thought it would take the opportunity to see some of the sights in Tasmania – a state renowned for its natural beauty (and some awesome breweries and a chocolate factory!). Particularly since it is not the natural territory for the 10m long whale.

brydes skull

Pic credit – ABC News

Now I can’t profess to know much (or anything!) about the anatomy of whale skulls, so if any one out there reading is a whale skull specialist, get in touch and tell us what makes them tick. We do know that this guy (or girl?) was a type of baleen whale, meaning there are no teeth in that mouth, but rather it would have fed by filtering water through a set of plates, trapping things that are small and delicious.

The baleen is actually made of keratin (like fingernails and hair) and not bone – and as to whether the Tasmanian scientists managed to recover the baleen from this guys skull, I have no idea!  You will have to visit the museum to see!

Thankfully the skull has now been recovered, but we definitely think this warrants a nomination in the skull hide and seek champs for 2013!


Project Noah- citizen science bones style!

April 17, 2013

Citizen science is the in thing at the moment.  And so it should be, it is an awesome way for the public to get involved in science projects.  There are plenty of projects going on out there, but recently, we found one that is particularly cool.

Project Noah.

This website allows people to upload pictures of wildlife that they have seen while treking around the globe and get other people to help them identify what they have found.  In the process, they are creating a detailed map of what species are living where.  The bit that makes this even cooler though, is that someone has made a skull and bones section!  Also known as Identifying animals through osteology

So get on there ASAP.  Show your smarts and help someone out who needs an ID, or scroll through the entries and become edified!

Maybe you can start with this guy who lives with me (if you follow us on twitter you might have seen him before, if you dont – go follow us!)



How to put a name to a (skull) face Part 3- DNA

December 27, 2012

We have looked at teeth, mastoid processes and supraorbital ridges which are all good ways to help identification of remains… but with our current state of knowledge, arguably the most effective technique we have is DNA.

Deoxyribonucleic Acid or DNA is the stuff that makes you you.  In essence it is like an molcular instruction manual, telling your cells what to do, when to do it and how to do it.  What makes DNA great for identification purposes is that it is slightly different in every individual (except those pesky twins!), but has similarities that are carried through families.

DNA identification is not totally fool proof and there are a few things that might mean that it is not possible in some cases.  For instance, you need something to compare it to.  Even if a forensic scientist can get DNA from an unidentified skull, if there is no family member to compare it to then it might not help in the identification process.  Luckily for the scientists looking for our old buddy Ned, they did have access to the DNA of some of his living distant relatives.

This is how they knew that this handsomely headless chap below was indeed Ned Kelly.

Picture credit: Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine

It is also how they were able to find out that the skull handed in 2009 by a Mr. Baxter was not.  Is the skull in the posession of the New Zealand witch the real deal?  That remains to be seen….

But now that we have come full circle back to Ned Kelly this will be the last of the skull identification posts for a while.  If you really liked them or there was a topic you were hanging out for that we missed let us know, we are happy to revisit the concept!


How to put a name to a (skull) face Part 2- Gender.

November 13, 2012

And for part 2 in our exploration of putting a name to a skull face today we are talking about…..

…Sexing a skull

We promise this is nowhere near as lewd as it sounds.  Or as fun… no actually take that last bit back, everything to do with skulls is fun!
So as with the skull of Ned Kelly we looked at previously, it is pretty unlikely to find a skull with a big beard or a pretty bow in its hair to tell us whether it is male or female.  That doesn’t mean that a skull can’t tell you what gender it is though.


There are a few factors which can help in indicating the gender such as overall size and weight, bone thickness and size of the cranial vault (brain box) but these are not necessarily as accurate as the other features you can check.

Picture credit here

Two of these features can be seen on the skull diagram above and they are supraorbital ridges and mastoid process.  The mastoid process is basically a bump at the back of the temporal bone that is obviously developed in the male (left) but small or absent as seen with the female on the right.  The supraorbital ridge, or brow ridge, is above the eyes under where your eyebrows sit (hence the name!).  In males there is an obvious bump or ridge here, whereas in females it is less obvious and again, often smooth or non existent.
There is also often a difference in the shape of the jaw with that on a male being more squared and a female being more rounded, and the same trend often rings true with the eye sockets as seen more obviously in the front on picture below.

Picture credit here


Hope you learned something here, we sure did.  Happy skull sexing!!


How to put a name to a (skull) face Part 1- Teeth.

October 5, 2012

As promised here is the first in the series of ‘How to put a name to a (skull) face’.  Enjoy!

If you’re anything like us you have trouble putting a name to the  face of a living person, let alone a dead one.  Luckily there is highly trained professionals to do it for us, but how do they do it?  The identifying features that may normally be used have probably long since disappeared- no moles, birthmarks or tattoos, or in the case of Ned Kelly- no spiffy quiff and awesome beard…  One way we can identify is by looking at teeth.

Teeth- is there any limit to what they can do?  They help you eat… they make your smile pretty… well maybe that’s all, but what is cool is that they may still be of use after your death.

Although not quite as individually exclusive as a fingerprint, our teeth do hold some distinctive traits.  If there is dental records available, it may be a matter of just looking and comparing (although not as simple as it sounds).  The number, shape, cavities, fillings, root canals all give points of comparison for dental records and Xrays.

This picture from here shows us how you can compare Xrays taken while still alive (right) can be compared to ones taken after death (left).

However, even if there are no dental Xrays available, teeth can still give an indication and hints towards an identity.

Such is the case with this guy, whose story can be seen in this paper.  Despite the lack of dental records, specialists were able to gain a wealth of information from the teeth- including that he was a male caucasian smoker aged between 25-35.

But of course teeth are not always the answer.  As you might recall from our picture of the (supposed) skull of Ned Kelly a fair few of his top ones were missing and others were looking worse for wear.  There are other ways we can identify our mystery skulls… But you will have to hold out for Part 2!

And we need to put the disclaimer on here that this info is for purely academic purposes…. if you happen to find a random nameless skull while walking down the street- call the Police.