Hyoid bone: horseshoes, speech and killers
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.