5 Weird Facts About The Human Skull

IMG_8678For centuries, artists have been captivated by the human skull. From renaissance vanity paintings to modern day tattoo art, images of the skull remind us that life is short and the time to live our dreams is now.

For an artist working today, understanding how to draw the human skull is no less important than it was centuries ago. The bones of the skull shape the features of our characters and hold the muscles that create the subtle facial expressions that bring our drawings to life. So in the spirit of the holiday, I bring you 5 weird facts you probably didn’t know about the most important feature of the human anatomy, the human skull.

1. Teeth are not considered to be bones of the skull

The bones of the skull are divided into two main groups: the bones of the cranium, and the bones of the face. Eight bones make up the cranium, and 14 bones make up the facial skeleton, but the teeth are not considered to be bones of the skull.


2. The human skull is full of “holes”

Besides your peeper holes, your smellin’ hole, and your pie hole, the skull is full of tiny holes called foramina. These openings allow for the passage of the nerves and blood vessels that innervate the face. The largest hole in the skull is where the vertebral column joins the base of the skull, and is called the foramen magnum. Go figure.


3. There is a difference between the skull cap and the brain case

In anatomical terms, the brain case includes these bones:





parietals (one on each side)

temporals (one on each side)

These bones fuse together to make the case that encloses and protects the brain. But when anatomists study the calvaria, or skull cap, they don’t consider the ethmoid or sphenoid bones, which close up the base of the skull. Without those bottom two bones, the brain case becomes the skull cap.


4. Human skulls look different depending on if they are male or female, and depending on what part of the world they come from

While we all have the same 22 bones in our skulls, their size and shape are different depending on sex and racial heritage. A trained artist, anatomist, or anthropologist can tell the difference in a single glance. By the way, the skulls you see most often are of Asian decent, since most anatomical specimens come from that part of the world.


5. There are fractals in every human skull

You know those wiggly little lines between the bones of the skull? Those are called sutures, and they are ridiculously long! They may not look it, but they are. I wish I could tell you exactly how long they are, but it turns out they are impossible to measure accurately. You could use a measuring tape to get a straight line length from one point to another, but that measure wouldn’t account for all of those tiny little wiggles. You could try using a piece of thread and match the wiggly zig-zags as close as possible, and then straighten and measure the thread, but even then, if you look at those sutures through a microscope, you would find you missed a ton of them. The sutures of the skull are actually fractals, and measuring fractals is best left to the mathematician.


When it comes right down to it, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. For the artist, there is beauty to be found where most others see only death. The human skull is an amazing piece of evolutionary design, and it’s a design that every serious artist should know backwards and forwards.

Happy Halloween!

By the way, the images in this post are all high res and free for you to use as reference, thanks to my good friends at UB Productions. They’ve got tons more cool skull images here!

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  1. I am very thankful for this info thanks. You saved me a major grade.

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