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The skull can be divided into two parts: the cranium and the mandible. A skull that is missing a mandible is only a cranium; this is the source of a very commonly made error in terminology. Those animals having skulls are called craniates.
Functions of the skull include protection of the brain, fixing the distance between the eyes to allow stereoscopic vision, and fixing the position of the ears to help the brain use auditory cues to judge direction and distance of sounds. In some animals, the skull also has a defensive function (e.g. horned ungulates); the frontal bone is where horns are mounted.
- Main article: Human skull
In humans, the adult skull is normally made up of 22 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)—including the frontal, parietals, occipital bone, sphenoid, temporals and ethmoid—a protective vault surrounding the brain. Fourteen bones form the splanchnocranium, the bones supporting the face. Encased within the temporal bones are the six ear ossicles of the middle ears, though these are not part of the skull. The hyoid bone, supporting the tongue, is usually not considered as part of the skull either, as it does not articulate with any other bones. The skull is a protector of the brain.
The skull 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 decreasing the weight of the skull with a minimal decrease 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 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.
The temporal fenestra are anatomical features of the amniote skull, characterised by bilaterally symmetrical holes (fenestrae) in the temporal bone. Depending on the lineage of a given animal, two, one, or no pairs of temporal fenestrae may be present, above or below the postorbital and squamosal bones. The upper temporal fenestrae are also known as the supratemporal fenestrae, and the lower temporal fenestrae are also known as the infratemporal fenestrae. The presence and morphology of the temporal fenestra is critical for taxonomic classification of the synapsids, of which mammals are part.
Physiological speculation associates it with a rise in metabolic rates and an increase in jaw musculature. The earlier amniotes of the Carboniferous did not have temporal fenestrae but two more advanced lines did: The Synapsids (mammal-like reptiles) and the Diapsids (most reptiles and later birds). As time progressed, diapsids' and synapsids' temporal fenestrae became more modified and larger to make stronger bites and more jaw muscles. Dinosaurs, which are sauropsids, have large advanced openings and their descendants, the birds, have temporal fenestrae which have been modified. Mammals, which are synapsids, possess no fenestral openings in the skull, as the trait has been modified. They do, though, still have the temporal orbit (which resembles an opening) and the temporal muscles. It is a hole in the head and is situated to the rear of the orbit behind the eye.
There are four types of amniote skull, classified by the number and location of their fenestra. These are:
- Anapsida - no openings
- Synapsida - one low opening (beneath the postorbital and squamosal bones)
- Euryapsida - one high opening (above the postorbital and squamosal bones); euryapsids actually evolved from a diapsid configuration, losing their lower temporal fenestra.
- Diapsida - two openings
Evolutionary, they are related as follows:
- Bone terminology
- Anatomical terms of location
- Head and neck anatomy
- Phrenology, the pseudoscientific process of determining personality from the shape of the head.
- Skull (symbolism)
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- Villani, R., & et al. (1976). Skull changes and intellectual status in hydrocephalic children following CSF shunting: Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology Vol 18(6, Suppl 37) 1976, 78-81.
- Wepman, J. (1965). View from the Inside: PsycCRITIQUES Vol 10 (7), Jul, 1965.
- Wolpaw, J. R. (1979). Gyral impressions in the skull as a guide to cortical topography in chronic transdural unit recording: Brain Research Vol 160(3) Jan 1979, 505-508.
- Zhao, X., Rizzo, A., Malek, B., Fakhry, S., & Watson, J. (2008). Basilar skull fracture: A risk factor for transverse/sigmoid venous sinus obstruction: Journal of Neurotrauma Vol 25(2) Feb 2008, 104-111.
- Donovan, A.-M. (2004). Minor physical anomalies and neuropsychological performance in patients with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering.
- Masterson, T. J., Jr. (1996). Cranial form in "cebus": An ontogenetic analysis of cranial form and sexual dimorphism. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences.
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- Skull preparation and curation (An excellent site with information about skull and skeleton cleaning and articulation with wonderful photos)
- Animal Skull Collection (Over 300 animal skull images compiled by U.S. high-school teacher)
- Ray Bandar: A Life With Skulls Film about California animal skull collector Ray Bandar
- Skull terminology site by Texas A&M
- Anatomy of cranial cavity.
- Dept of Anth Skull Module
- Skull Anatomy Tutorial.
- GMA NEWS.TV, video, (Filipino language) Baby born without skull - 01/19/2008
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