Hy­oid bone: horse­shoes, speech and killers

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Resources -

What is it? A small horse­shoe-shaped bone in the neck. It sits at the front of the neck, be­low the mandible (jaw­bone) and above the lar­ynx (voice box). What makes it unique?

It’s the only bone in the body that doesn’t ar­tic­u­late (at­tach) di­rectly with an­other bone. It’s ac­tu­ally sus­pended by lig­a­ments in the neck. What does it do?

It sup­ports the root of the tongue and pro­vides an at­tach­ment point for sev­eral mus­cles that help to el­e­vate the lar­ynx dur­ing speech and swal­low­ing, help­ing di­rect food into the oe­soph­a­gus.

It rises when we swal­low and you can feel that if you gen­tly cup your fin­gers round the top of the front of your neck. How did it change his­tory?

While other an­i­mals have ver­sions of the hy­oid bone, only hu­mans have evolved to pos­sess a hy­oid that is po­si­tioned ex­actly so it can work to­gether with the lar­ynx and tongue to al­low us to make the wide range of sounds that come out of our mouth.

So our hy­oid is a big rea­son why hu­mans de­vel­oped spo­ken lan­guage, which was the spark that ig­nited our cul­tural de­vel­op­ment. Why the name?

It is named af­ter the Greek word hy­oei­des, which means ‘‘ shaped like the let­ter up­silon’’, which cor­re­sponds to the let­ter U in English. How can it help catch a killer?

Pathol­o­gists per­form­ing au­top­sies can tell if a per­son has been killed by stran­gu­la­tion by ex­am­in­ing the hy­oid.

The bone is of­ten bro­ken in this form of mur­der.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Nathalie Gar­cia

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