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Bones of the head

Recommended video: Bones of the skull [12:46]
Main bones of the head.

The skull contains all the bones of the head and is a shell for the brain and the origins of the central nervous system. A first glance shows that this is one large mass of detailed and irregular bone.

Upon closer inspection however, it seems that it is intricately constructed of many smaller bone fragment pairs, all unique in shapes and sizes, that bilaterally make up this hollow, three dimensional ovoid shaped structure. Because of its complexity, the first step to approach the anatomy of the skull is to begin with its regional and topographic overview.

Key facts
Developmental classification Neurocranium: occipital bone, temporal bones (2), parietal bones (2), sphenoid bone, ethmoid bone, frontal bone
Viscerocranium: vomer, nasal conchae (2), nasal bones (2), maxilla, mandible, palatine bones (2), zygomatic bones (2), lacrimal bones (2)
Regional classification (1) Region of the cranium, subregions: - cranial vault - upper portion of the skull
- cranial base - inferior portion of the skull
- cranial cavity - interior of the skull (subregions: anterior, middle, posterior cranial fossae)
- facial skeleton - bones that make up the face
- acoustic skeleton - ear ossicles
(2) Region of the mandible 
Clinical relations Fractures, osteoporosis, osteoradionecrosis, osteomalacia, osteomyelitis, pneumatization, circumstantial bone resorption

This article gives a general overview of the most complicated bony structure in the entire human body.

  1. Anatomy
    1. Regional classification
    2. Developmental classification
    3. Cranial cavity
  2. Function
  3. Clinical aspects
  4. Sources
+ Show all


The term 'the skull' includes all the bones of the head, face and jaws. Within this capacity, there are twenty eight individual bones. Of these twenty eight bones, eleven of them are paired, to form a bilaterally symmetrical three dimensional structure and six of them are single, unique bones.

In some cases sutural bones, also known as wormian bones may grow between the sutures of two bones. These occur naturally and are not counted among the primary cranial bones.

The skull bones are categorized into regional and development bones.

Regional classification

When done by region, the skull is classified by its two main parts: the cranium and the mandible.

These two structures are not attached when there are no tendons or muscles holding them together. The mandible is one entire bone but the cranium is further divided into subcategories of bones, including the cranial vault or upper portion of the skull, the cranial base which is the inferior portion of the skull, the cranial cavity, also known as the interior of the skull, the bones that make up the face and are called the facial skeleton and lastly, the acoustic skeleton or ear ossicles.

Developmental classification

Developmentally, the skull is separated into the viscerocranium and the neurocranium. These are the areas of the skull that take part in digestion and respiration and also those which guard the central nervous system and the organs of taste, touch, smell, hearing and site respectively.

Cranial cavity

The Cranial Cavity is divided into three different sections. These borders are marked on the skull by specific structures, but also by which part of the brain they house.

  • The frontal lobe of the brain fills the anterior cranial fossa
  • The middle cranial fossa holds the temporal lobe of the brain
  • The last fossa, named the posterior cranial fossa, contains the cerebellum.

Finally, it is to be noted that there are several different views of the skull, that when separate from the body in its entirety, are possible without hindrance from other structures. These five views are the anterior view or norma frontalis, the lateral view or norma lateralis, the posterior view or norma occipitalis, the inferior view or norma basalis and finally the superior view or norma verticalis.

Test your knowledge on the bones of the skull with this interactive quiz.


The most important function of the skull is to protect the brain and the central nervous system. It also protects the organs that control special senses. These five senses and their corresponding organs are:

  • Olfaction or sense of smell which is accommodated by the nasal cavity;
  • Vision which is hosted by the eye;
  • Taste which is regulated by the oral cavity;
  • Vestibular function and auditory function, simply known as movement or touch and hearing. The Ear encompasses these two senses.

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