Happy Australia Day

January 26, 2013

Happy Australia Day Craniophiles!

May your Australia day be full of relaxation and stereotypes… shrimp and lamb chops on the barbie etc…


And a few short Australia day tidbits for you to ruminate on while waiting for your sacrificial meats to roast on the BBQ (partly from the heat of the BBQ, partly from the heat of the sun)

– We don’t call them shrimps, they are prawns

– Prawns don’t have a skull!  Prawns are Decapods (10 feet) and have an exoskeleton, so instead of a skull, their juicy brains are protected on the outside by a hard part of the shell called the Carapace

– As for your lamb, they definitely do have a skull but Im assuming no-one has one on the BBQ today.  Instead you are probably having loin chops or cutlets, which come from the spine and ribs.  BAAAHHH.


Happy New Year with Mari Lwyd

December 31, 2012

Today we were introduced to something that is both delightfully skull-ish and appropriately new year-ish.  What you ask?  Well if you had read the title of the post you would already know… but in case you didnt it’s Mari Lwyd.

Mari Lwyd, or the Grey mare, is a Welsh tradition and although we aren’t 100% sure what it entails we imagine it as an olde school rap battle of sorts where visitors would knock on the door of houses and challenge the people inside to a singing contest with the winner taking all (all being entry into the house and hopefully some good food and booze).  The coolest part of the story however, is that the people would be accompanied by a horses skull, with bottletops or similar as eyes and a veil-like white cloth to cover the guy who drew the short straw and was carrying around the head on the stick.


If you have a close look at the old girl above, in addition to some pretty mean streamers and emerald eyes to die for, you can see the infraorbital foramen (above the teeth on the side) and the mental foramen (below the teeth at the front).  We haven’t seen any good ones for a while so in case you had forgotten the foramen are simply holes in the skull for blood vessels and nerves to travel through.

If you are lucky enough to receive a visit from Mari Lwyd tonight please send us pics! And from V and E at Craniophiles, we hope you have very fun and safe new years celebrations and we look forward to being craniophillic with you in 2013!


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.


Ned Kelly’s skull- hide and seek champion 1978-2012

September 16, 2012

If you follow the global news you will probably have seen the recent surge in interest of the skull of the infamous Irish Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly.  A recent request by his decendants to have his skull returned so that they could give it proper burial with the rest of his remains (story here); and the resultant claim of ownership by a Kiwi witch (story here) has propelled this media interest.   However, this is not the first time that someone has claimed to be in possession of the bushrangers skull (story here).

Ms. Hoffman is pretty sure she has the goods, but the skull in question is no longer attached to the famous beard and spiffy quiff, so how do we know that the cranium collecting dust in Ms Hoffman’s cupboard is genuinely that of Ned Kelly?

Hoffman skull pic credit.

Ok, so clearly we’re kidding… but if it has nothing to do with hair, how do we identify what skull belongs to which remains?  There is in fact a few different ways this can be done and forensic/anthropological teams will often use more than one.  Some of these are:

  • DNA
  • Facial reconstruction
  • Teeth
  • Measurements and size
  • Suture state
  • Evidence of injury

We aren’t going to talk about them all today as to be perfectly honest- we don’t know about them all.  But seeing this skull has piqued our Craniophile and we are going to do some research!

So keep your eyes peeled, over the next couple of weeks we will be talking about all sorts of skull identification processes- and if you are an archaeologist, anthropologist, forensic scientist…. Please get in touch!  We would love for you to educate us on your favourite identification technique!



Noahs Vegemite skull

August 31, 2012

As a general rule we love basking in the anonymity of the internet…

But this post is going to give us away.  Well not totally, but our location at least.

We LOVE Vegemite.  LOVE LOVE LOVE Vegemite.  In fact, in my house, Vegemite is not confined just to toast, I use is as a dip, on eggs, in cooking…. But never used it to paint with.  Trust Skull-A-Day creator Noah Scalin to have tried it!  See his original post here.

Now as you know we normally like to slip a bit of anatomy or such into our posts, but we can’t expect an artist to give us well defined craniofacial features when using Vegemite to paint with, so instead… we give you some Vegemite science!

Vegemite is produced from a by product of beer brewing yeast (sounds good already right!), vegetables, spices and salt.  Vegemite is one of the worlds best sources for B vitamins thiamine, folic acid, riboflavin and niacin and has been endorsed by the British Medical Association for this reason.  The B group vitamins (there are over 20 that we currently know of) are essential for all sorts of things our bodies do and have also been linked to positive mental health.  So if you want to be a happy little Vegemite get some!

Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it… and if you tried it and didn’t like it… you tried it wrong, try some more!