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Anatomy of the Human Skull

The human cranium and the facial bones are the foundation for the soft tissues of the face and head. Thus, much of the visible appearance of the human face depends upon the shapes and qualities of these bones. The cranium is that part of the skull that holds and protects the brain in a large cavity, called the cranial vault. Eight plate-like bones form the human cranium by fitting together at joints called sutures. The most important of these cranial bones for the appearance of the face is the frontal bone, which underlies the top of the face above the eyeballs. The human skull also includes 14 facial bones that form the lower front of the skull and provide the framework for most of the face that is important to psychological research. These 22 skull bones form other, smaller cavities besides the cranial vault, including those for the eyes, the internal ear, the nose, and the mouth. The important facial bones include the jaw bone or mandible, the maxilla or upper jaw, the zygomatic or cheek bone, and the nasal bone.

The shapes and features of the human skull determine much of the static appearances of the face and provide the basis for the features of physiognomy. Forensic pathologists and biologists can reconstruct the superficial appearance of a face merely from the human skull, as in the case of the Kennewick Man. The reconstruction of this skull revealed a facial appearance that indicates he is a descendant of a more ancient migration from Asia than that which brought the ancestors of the Indians (Amerinds), who settled widely in the Americas before the arrival of Europeans.

The skull bones are associated with many other features. Processes are areas where the bones have extra tissue to hold muscles and ligaments; lines are grooves in the bone from other developmental processes; foramina are holes in the bones through which nerves and blood vessels pass; sinuses are empty spaces in the bones that make the skull lighter. Some of these features affect the physiognomy of the face due to variations in thickness, size, location, and shape.

The diagrams below show the major external features of the human cranium and the major skull bones. The names in black are facial bones, those in red are cranial bones, and those in blue are features of the bones.

human skull bones
frontal view
human cranium
side view
Feature Location Description
angle of jaw or mandible back of jaw the corner of the jaw where the mandible body turns upwards into the ramus
aveolar process maxilla, root of teeth rugosities associated with tooth development
condyle of mandible top of ramus of mandible a ball-like end to the ramus of the mandible that forms a hinge with the temporal bone
coronal suture top of head between frontal and parietal cranial bones one of the major joints or sutures between the plates of the frontal and parietal cranial bones
external acoustic meatus between ramus of mandible and mastoid process a hole in the temporal cranial bone allowing the passage of sound to enter the inner ear
ethmoid bone eye cavity a cranial bone forming part of the eye cavity
forehead boss or frontal tuberosity forehead a feature of the frontal bone that forms the "bumps" in the forehead above the eyebrows
frontal bone top of face (forehead) and front top of head one of the major cranial bones that forms the forehead and front top of the head; roughly covers the frontal lobes of the brain
glabella center of forehead an area in the center of the forehead, between the eyebrows, that assumes various shapes on different individuals
lacrimal bone inner corner of eye socket a small bone forming a cavity for the tear gland
lambdoid suture back of head suture or joint between the occipital and parietal cranial bones
mandible or jaw bone lower part of jaw the lower jaw bone is the only skull bone that moves, i.e., during mastication, speech, and expression; carries the lower teeth
maxilla upper part of jaw the two maxillae form the center of the face with many attaching muscles; carry the upper teeth; form part of the eye orbit; act like keystones into which the other facial bones fit
mastoid process lower part of temporal bone, behind ramus of jaw built up area of the lower temporal bone where important neck muscles attach
mental protuberance chin boss a feature of the mandible at the lower front part of the chin which underlies part of the chin boss
mental tuberosities chin boss a dual bulbous formation of the mandible that underlies part of the chin boss
nasal bone nose forms the upper part of the nose and nasal bridge; the lower part of the bridge is formed of cartilage
nasal concha nasal cavity formations creating part of the nasal cavity
nasal spine center of nose feature of maxilla facial bone at center of nose to which septum is attached
occipital bone the lower rear of the head a major cranial bone at the lower back of the head; covers occipital lobe of the brain
parietal bone top and side of head a major cranial bone that froms part of the top, back, and side of the head and roughly covers the parietal lobe of the brain
ramus of mandible back part of the mandible the more vertical part of the mandible
sphenoid bone temple and eye orbit area a cranial bone that forms part of the eye cavity
squamosal suture side of head between parietal and temporal bones one of the major joints or sutures between the parietal and temporal cranial bones
supraorbial foramen upper orbit of eye a hole in the frontal bone where nerves and blood vessels pass through; forms a notch in the orbit of the eye
supraorbital process eyebrows a formation of the frontal bone above the orbit of the eye, under and above the eyebrows that affects the appearance of the eyebrows
temporal bone side of the head, above the ear a cranial bone on the side of the head that roughly covers the temporal lobe of the brain; it extends down behind the ear towards the jaw
temporal lines front part of temple and lower part of frontal bones lines in the frontal bone around the temple
vomer nasal cavity a facial bone on the centerline of the nose that forms part of the nasal cavity
zygomatic bone cheek the principal cheek bone; origin of zygomatic and other facial muscles
zygomatic process bones bordering zygomatic bone the temporal and maxilla bones have areas next to the zygomatic bone

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