A skull is a bony structure which serves as the general framework for a head. The skull attempts to protect the brain, acting as a form of natural helmet.

Table of contents
1 Humans
2 Bones of the human skull
3 Foramina of skull base


In humans, the skull is the uppermost portion of the human skeleton. It is made up of a number of bony parts - 7 in the skull proper (neurocranium) and 14 in the facial area (splanchnocranium). There are five main skull sections - one occipital, two frontal, two parietal. The sections are fused together in adults along sutures - metopic, coronal, sagittal and lambdoid. At birth these sutures are fibrous and moveable, necessary for birth and later growth. At the points where sutures meet are fontanelles, the main ones are the anterior and posterior. The posterior fontanelle usually closes by eight weeks but the anterior fontanelle can remain up to eighteen months. The anterior fontanelle is located at the junction of the frontal and parietal bones, it is a 'soft spot' on a baby's forehead. Careful examination will show that you can count the

If the brain is bruised or injured it can be extremely serious. Normally the skull protects the brain from damage through its hard unyieldingness, but in some cases of head injury, there can be raised intracranial pressure through mechanisms such as a subdural haematoma. In these cases the raised intracranial pressure can cause herniation of the brain out of the foramen magnum ('coning') because there is no space for the brain to expand to - this can result in significant brain damage or death unless an urgent operation is performed to relieve the pressure. This is why patients with concussion must be watched extremely carefully.

Human skull (front)

Human skull (side)

In earlier times, a skull operation called trepanation was often performed for semi-mystical reasons and not only as an attempted life-saving technique.

The skull also contains the sinus cavities. The meninges are the membranes that separate the brain from the skull.

Bones of the human skull

Cranial bones:

Facial bones:

Foramina of skull base

A list of the holes (foramina) in the base of the skull and what goes through each of them.

Arranged from anterior to posterior:

  • foramen caecum - emissary vein to superior sagittal sinus
  • foramina of cribriform plate - olfactory nerve bundles
  • posterior ethmoidal foramen - posterior ethmoidal artery, vein and nerve
  • optic canal - optic nerve (II), ophthalmic artery
  • superior orbital fissure
  • foramen rotundum - maxillary nerve (V2)
  • foramen ovale
    • mandibular nerve (V3)
    • accessory meningeal artery
    • lesser petrosal nerve (occasionally)
  • foramen spinosum
    • middle meningeal artery and vein
    • meningeal branch of mandibular nerve
  • formamen lacerum
    • internal carotid artery
    • internal carotid nerve plexus
  • hiatus of canal of lesser petrosal nerve
  • hiatus of canal of greater petrosal nerve
  • internal acoustic meatus
  • jugular foramen
  • hypoglossal canal - hypoglossal nerve (XII)
  • foramen magnum

see also: cranium